Take Meningitis Seriously, Students
Virus hits college campuses quickly, results can be deadly
College students are at a high risk for a disease that seems to circulate every year, sadly — with dire consequences for some.
Meningococcal disease causes meningitis and bloodstream infections that can turn deadly very quickly. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a third student has now been confirmed as having the disease.
“College students are at high risk for meningococcal disease,” said an infectious disease expert.
Campus health officials sent an email alert to parents and caregivers, urging them to have their student vaccinated as soon as possible — if they haven’t already. The student most recently diagnosed is in the hospital right now, while the two other students diagnosed earlier this month are said to be recovering.
“UHS, in consultation with local and state health officials, continues to strongly urge that all UW-Madison undergraduate students through age 25 get vaccinated against meningococcal disease serogroup B,” the email stated.
The note from health services further stated, “If your student has not already been vaccinated, please urge them to get vaccinated today. We are exercising an abundance of caution to protect the health and safety of our students.”
Free vaccination clinics have been offered to students since the first cases were diagnosed; two more will be held again next week.
Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These illnesses are often severe and include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).
Meningococcus bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit, simply by living in close quarters, and kissing. It can be treated with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important.
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
“As this weekend’s Halloween festivities approach, please remind your student to practice good respiratory hygiene,” the note home to students at UW-Madison stated — and it’s a good reminder for young people everywhere. “Students should not share anything that comes into contact with the mouth, such as drinking glasses, eating utensils, smoking materials, cosmetics, or lip balm. Meningococcal bacteria are spread through close contact with an infected person’s oral or nasal secretions.”
Getting the vaccine, infectious disease experts say, allows for the best protection.
“It is well-established that college students are at high risk for meningococcal disease given the high rate of colonization with the organism,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Routine meningococcal vaccination prevents disease from four of the five most important types of the bacteria. At least two of these Wisconsin cases were caused by meningococcal type B, which is not covered by the routine childhood vaccine but are covered by the new type B vaccines which were recently licensed by the [Food and Drug Administration]. The uptake of this vaccine in the general population is not high and as theses cases continue to occur it will underscore the importance of understanding what role these new vaccines should play in the management of this disease.”
Meningococcal meningitis is a vaccine-preventable infection, Adalja added, and colleges are often settings for outbreaks.
It takes two weeks to achieve an immune response for protection. During that time, students should continue to watch for symptoms, which include fever greater than 101 degrees accompanied by severe headache, neck stiffness and confusion. Vomiting or rashes may also occur.
Anyone with these symptoms should contact a health care provider or go to an emergency room immediately.