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Student Health Services



Meningococcal disease is spread by close contact of respiratory secretions, such as drinking directly after someone, kissing, and sharing utensils, or by being coughed or sneezed upon. It is not spread by being in the same classroom or by passing someone on the street.

Meningococcal Disease and MENINGITIS SYMPTOMS

Bacterial meningitis is characterized by these symptoms:

• Fever and chills
• Persistent and severe headache
• Stiff neck
• Sensitivity to bright lights
• Drowsiness or confusion
• Nausea or vomiting
• Purplish skin rash

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether a virus causes meningitis or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability.

Bacterial Meningitis

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually appear within five days of exposure and include high fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, stiff neck or back, and abdominal, back and extremity pain. Symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 or 2 days. These symptoms, particularly in the early stages, may resemble common upper respiratory ailments such as the cold or flu. If a student experiences progression of cold symptoms to more severe symptoms, including a persistent and severe fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, extreme physical weakness, and a purplish rash, she/he should immediately contact the University Health Center or his/her health care provider for assessment and treatment.

Is bacterial meningitis contagious?
Bacterial meningitis is contagious, however, it is not easily transmittable. Indirect or casual contact (such as being in the same room with someone who is infected) is not enough to cause transmission of bacterial meningitis. Direct contact with someone who has bacterial meningitis does increase the likelihood of being exposed to it. This includes direct exposure to oral or nasal secretions, which result from the coughing or sneezing of an infected person. Therefore, good hygiene practices help prevent its transmission. Do not share eating or drinking utensils.

Who needs preventive antibiotics to protect against bacterial meningitis?
Persons who have had recent intimate or direct exposure to someone with meningococcal disease may be at increased risk for contracting meningococcal disease and should receive prophylactic medication. Intimate or direct exposure is through kissing, sharing eating utensils or glassware, or droplet contamination with nose or throat secretions from the infected individual.

Can meningitis be treated?
Unlike viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis can be treated through the use of antibiotic therapies.

Viral Meningitis

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms may not be the same for every person. The more common symptoms are fever, severe headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to bright lights, drowsiness or confusion and nausea or vomiting.

Is viral meningitis a serious disease?
Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in persons with normal immune systems. Usually, the symptoms last from 7 to 10 days and the person recovers completely. Often the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are the same. For that reason, if a student has these symptoms, he/she should go to the University Health Center or other health care provider for assessment and treatment.

How is viral meningitis treated?
No specific treatment for viral meningitis exists at this time. Most patients recover completely on their own, and doctors often will recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache.

Is viral meningitis contagious?
The viruses that cause viral meningitis are contagious. However, most people exposed to the viruses causing meningitis will not develop the disease. They may have no symptoms or develop only a cold or rash with low-grade fever. Typically, less than 1 out of 1000 persons infected actually develop meningitis. Therefore, if you are around someone who has viral meningitis, you have a moderate chance of becoming infected but a very small chance of developing meningitis.

How is the virus spread?
Enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis, are most often spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus. This usually happens by shaking hands with an infected person or touching something they have handled, and then rubbing your own nose, mouth or eyes. The incubation period is usually between 3 and 7 days from the time you are infected until you develop symptoms. You can usually spread the virus to someone else beginning about 3 days after you are infected until about 10 days after you develop symptoms.

How can I reduce my chances of becoming infected?
Because most persons who are infected with enteroviruses do not become sick, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus. If you are in contact with someone who has viral meningitis, however, the most effective method of prevention is to wash your hands thoroughly and often.

Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal disease is a serious disease that can lead to death within only a few hours of onset: one in ten cases is fatal and one in seven survivors of the disease is left with a severe disability, such as loss of a limb, mental retardation, paralysis, deafness or seizures.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitis and occurs when these bacteria, which can live harmlessly in the nose and throat of healthy people, invade the tissues or bloodstream of the body. Meningococcemia occurs when N. meningitidis enters the blood stream; meningitis occurs when the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord is invaded; and pneumonia occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs.

Meningococcal disease is contagious but a largely preventable infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain.

Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person to person by direct contact or intimate exposure with an infected person's oral or nasal secretions, such as saliva or respiratory droplets. Intimate or direct exposure is through kissing, sharing eating utensils or glassware. Fortunately, the bacteria is not as contagious as the common cold and does not spread by being in the same room or breathing the same air as an infected person. The bacteria is not transmitted by routine contact in classrooms, restaurants, bars and restrooms where an infected person has been.

Approximately 5 to 10% of the general population carries the meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat in a harmless state. This carrier state may last for days or months and seems to give those individuals who harbor meningococci in their upper respiratory tract some protection from actually developing the disease state.

Scientific evidence suggests that college students living in residence hall facilities are at a moderately increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease.

The incidence of meningococcal meningitis has increased since the early 1990's, including cases at U.S. colleges and universities. Recent data also show students living in residence halls, particularly first year students, have an increased risk for the disease.

Data suggests that certain social behaviors, such as exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage and excessive alcohol consumption, may increase students' risk for contracting the disease.

Immunization against meningococcal disease will decrease the risk of the disease.

Information taken from:

American College Health Association