Books, computers, classes and...BACTERIAL MENINGITIS?

Typical college student questions:

"What classes should I take?"
Where should I live?"
"How will I pay for books?"

Hear IT!
Meningitis Meningococcal

New question some college students are asking:

"Should I worry about a bacterial meningitis?"

What is Bacterial Meningitis?

The Meninges
Bacterial meningitis is an infection that leads to inflammation of the meninges, the coverings of the brain. Several types of bacteria, including Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis can cause inflammation of the meninges. The bacteria that causes meningitis most often in young adults is Neisseria meningitidis. This type of infection is also called meningococcal disease.

Worldwide, meningococcal disease affects 310,000 people each year. According to the US Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), approximately 2,600 people in the United States get meningococcal disease each year. Between 10-15% of the people who develop the disease will die. Of those who survive, 10% of the people will have lingering symptoms such as deafness, seizures or stroke.

Although infants younger than two years old are at the highest risk for meningococcal disease, first-year college students who live in dormitories also have an increased risk for the disease.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

Symptoms can develop quickly (in less than a day). People with meningitis do not always show all of the symptoms of the disease. Widespread damage can occur if the infection spreads through the blood to tissues in the body.

Symptoms of Meningitis
HeadachesFeverSensitivity to light
Stiff neckSkin rashSeizures

How is Bacterial Meningitis Spread?

A meningococcal infection is spread from person-to-person through the air or through nose and throat secretions. Sneezing, coughing, kissing, and sharing utensils or beverages can spread the disease. Some people infected by the bacteria will not have any symptoms of the disease.

How is Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosed?

Doctors look for the clinical symptoms of meningitis and can perform a lumbar puncture to examine a patient's cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for evidence of infection. Bacteria are grown from the CSF sample to identify the type of infection and to determine the best treatment for the patient. A blood test or swab of the throat or nose is sometimes used to identify the bacteria.

Treating Bacterial Meningitis

Patients with bacterial meningitis are treated with antibiotics. Often people who have come in close contact with the patient, such as family members, are also treated with antibiotics to prevent an infection.

Preventing Bacterial Meningitis

A vaccine against four strains of Neisseria meningitidis is available, but it is not given routinely. Because college freshman who live in dormitories have a higher risk of meningococcal disease than other populations, the CDC has recommended that these students and their parents be educated about the availability of the meningococcal vaccine. The close living conditions in dormitories may place these students at a higher risk for meningococcal disease.

Did you know?

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae, Listeria monocytogenes, Group B Streptococci, Gram-Negative Bacilli, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococci are other bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis.
  • In 1805, M. Vieusseux described the clinical symptoms of meningococcal disease for the first time.
  • In 1887, A. Weicheselbaum was the first to find meningococcal bacteria in the CSF of patients.
  • Meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b has been virtually eliminated in countries that immunize people with a H. influenzae type b vaccine.
  • Meningitis can also be caused by viruses (viral meningitis). However, the symptoms of viral meningitis are usually not as severe as those of bacterial meningitis.
  • Neisseria meningitidis infects humans, but not other animals.
  • The last words of writer Louisa M. Alcott (died in 1888) were: "Is it not meningitis?"
  • Playwright/Poet Oscar Wilde died in 1900 from meningitis.
The Meningitis "Belt"

People living in a region of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia are at the highest risk for meningococcal disease. Living conditions and climate in this area can cause epidemics of bacterial meningitis.

References and Links:

  1. National Meningitis Association
  2. Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  3. Meningitis - Mayo Clinic
  4. Meningitis - Interactive Module (EXCELLENT!)
  5. Meningococcal Meningitis - eMedicine
  6. Meningococcal Disease - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  7. Meningococcal Disease and College Students
  8. Meningococcal Meningitis in College Students
  9. Prevention and Control of Meningococcal Disease - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  10. Meningococcal Disease Vaccine Information - National Network for Immunization Information
  11. Harrison, L.H., Preventing meningococcal infection in college students, Clinical Infectious Diseases, 30:648-651, 2000.
  12. Tunkel, A.R. Bacterial Meningitis, Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.

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