What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation and infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord caused by either a virus or bacteria.

Viral Meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis and usually occurs in late spring and summer.  Signs and symptoms of viral meningitis may include stiff neck, headache, nausea, vomiting and rash.  Most cases of viral meningitis run a short, uneventful course.  Since the causative agent is a virus, antibiotics are not effective. Persons who have had contact with an individual with viral meningitis do not require any treatment.

Bacterial meningitis occurs rarely and sporadically throughout the year, although outbreaks tend to occur in late winter and early spring.  Bacterial meningitis in college aged students may be due to an organism called meningococcal bacteria.  Because meningococcal meningitis can cause grave illness and rapidly progress to death, it requires early diagnosis and treatment.  Persons who have had intimate contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis should seek immediate  medical attention so they may get preventive therapy, which is a course of antibiotics.   

Where does it come from and how is it transmitted?

The meningococcal bacterial is  found in nasal and oral secretions.  People may harbor this organism, but never become ill, others get quite ill with meningitis or meningococcemia (bacterial infection of the blood) and  may die.  This organism can be transmitted through close personal contact such as:

Other risk factors include those habits which decrease ones immune system such as:

Most people who become infected simply carry the organism harmlessly, without illness, and eliminate it from the nose and throat within a short time by developing natural immunity.  At any one time, up to 10% of the normal population may be found carrying meningococcus without illness or symptoms.

Very rarely, an individual may develop an illness with signs and symptoms of  fever, headache, and stiff neck, sometimes with a rash or vomiting, and sometimes with fatigue or change in consciousness or awareness of their surroundings.  If you experience these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical evaluation.  

Preventative Measures


·        The American College Health Association recommends that all college students under the age of 30 become knowledgeable about the vaccine and consider getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease. A new Pennyslvania law mandates all students either receive the vaccine or sign a waiver. 

·        The vaccine protects against four out of 5 serotypes (subtypes) of meningitis.

·        Forty-six percent of all bacterial meningitis is caused by subtype B, for which no vaccine is yet available.

·        The vaccine is 90 % effective against subtypes C, which accounts for 20-45 % of all cases.

·        Clinical protection from the vaccine for subtypes Y and W-135  has not been documented, however, antibodies are produced.

·        Vaccine will not protect against other bacteria that cause meningitis

·        The effectiveness of the vaccine (production of antibodies) decreases markedly during the first 3 years following vaccination.

·        Revaccination may be considered for freshmen who were vaccinated more than 3-5 years earlier.

·        Routine revaccination of college students who were vaccinated as freshmen is not indicated.

·        The vaccine decreases the risk of  meningococcal disease for 3-5 years, and overall is 80%- 90% effective. 

·        As with any vaccine, the meningitis vaccine may not protect 100% of susceptible individuals.

·        If a student who has had the vaccine is exposed to meningococcal meningitis or disease, the experts recommend that the exposed person still have antibiotics to protect them against the disease despite the vaccine. 

Adverse effects and contraindications to the vaccine


·        The  vaccine price varies depending on your doctor’s office.  Currently it is available at the Health Center for $95.00, however, if the company raises their prices, we will have to adjust ours as well.  The student may charge this amount to their account, use their declining balance, or pay in cash

If you would like more information on meningitis and the vaccine, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) web sites for general information.



Mary Arthur, CRNP, MPA
Director, Student Health Services

Friday, August 19, 2005 4:36 PM