Meningitis (Meningococcal Disease)

Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial disease that occurs either as meningococcal meningitis, inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord or meningococcemia, and the presence of bacteria in the blood. Meningococcal disease occurs in about 1-3 out of 100,000 people each year, but is more common among freshman students living in on-campus housing. About 10-15% of those affected die in spite of antibiotic treatment and of those who survive, another 10-20% lose limbs, become deaf, have neurological problems, become mentally disabled or suffer seizures or strokes.

Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions, and through direct contact with persons infected with the disease. Oral contact with shared items such as cigarettes or drinking glasses or through intimate contact such as kissing, could put a person at risk for acquiring the infection. People identified as close contacts of a patient with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent the disease.

Symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, neck stiffness, rash, nausea, vomiting and lethargy (confusion, sleepiness, being hard to wake up). Because the disease progresses rapidly, often in as little as 12 hours, those who experience two or more of the above symptoms are urged to seek immediate medical care.

The vaccine is considered to be safe, but should not be given to those who have had a serious allergic reaction to any of the vaccine components. Anyone with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should speak to their healthcare provider before getting the conjugate (Menactra) vaccine. Some people have mild side effects including redness or pain at the injection site or fever. The vaccine does not completely eliminate the possibility of infection, but is effective against the strains responsible for two thirds of the cases on college campuses.

Meningococcal Meningitis and Hepatitis B immunizations are available at the University of Miami Student Health Service.