The term meningitis refers to an infection of the outer surface of the brain, and can be caused by a number of different bacteria and viruses. College students who live in residence halls or similar kinds of living arrangements (e.g. a fraternity or sorority house) are slightly more at risk for a particular type of bacterial meningitis known as meningococcal meningitis. Although rare, it can be fatal in a minority of cases. Fortunately, vaccines are available which can further lower your risk.
The UA is not requiring that you get the vaccines against meningococcal meningitis, but strongly recommending that any student who will be living in university (residence halls) or Greek system (fraternity or sorority) housing seriously consider being vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis.
Many health insurance plans cover the vaccines that protect against meningococcal meningitis. These typically include plans by Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, and Cigna - the four commercial health insurance carriers that Campus Health contracts with. Check with your individual insurance plan for details.
College students, particularly freshmen living in residence halls, are at "modestly increased risk". The overall risk of meningococcal meningitis among college students is low, and therefore the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has not recommended routine vaccination of all college students. However, in February 2005, after reviewing data related to a new meningitis vaccine, the ACIP recommended that college freshmen living in dormitories receive the meningococcal meningitis vaccine.
In the United States, most cases are caused by three strains of Neisseria meningitis (the bacteria that causes meningococcal meningitis and meningococcal disease). These three strains are called serogroup B, C, and Y. The currently available vaccines protect against serogroups C, Y, and B, with the vaccines against serogroup B meningitis recently approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.
The vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease are available at the UA Campus Health Service. Currently enrolled students can call the UA Campus Health Service Travel and Immunization Clinic at (520) 621-2292 to schedule an appointment for vaccination.
If you already received the standard A,C,W,Y meningococcal vaccine prior to age 16, it is now recommended that you receive a booster shot after age 16 in order to have adequate protection while in college. This recommendation does not pertain to the new Serogroup B meningitis vaccine.
The older polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune) provides protection for approximately three to five years. The newer conjugate vaccines against strains A,C,W & Y, (Menactra or Menveo) may provide immunity for up to five years or longer and may prevent a carrier state. It is unknown at this time how long the immunity from the new Meningococcal Serogroup B vaccines will last.
Seven to ten days are required following vaccination before protective levels of antibodies are reached.
The symptoms of meningococcal disease can include a moderate fever, severe headache and/or muscle aches, a stiff neck, vomiting and a rash.
The bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis (Neisseria meningitidi) are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva or spit (e.g. living in close quarters, kissing). These bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or the flu. They are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.
Rates of meningococcal disease have been declining in the US since the late 1990s, likely due to vaccination. There are now fewer than 1000 cases reported each year, and 98 out of 100 cases are sporadic (are not associated with an outbreak). While anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents and college-aged adults are at increased risk.
Practice good hygiene to reduce your risk. Avoid sharing the following: smoking materials (cigarettes, hookahs, etc.), food and drink, eating utensils, cosmetics, and toothbrushes. Kissing and direct exposure to saliva through coughing or sneezing can also spread meningococcal meningitis, so practice coughing and sneezing in your sleeve and encourage others to do the same.