Meningococcal Meningitis is a deadly bacterial infection of the tissue layer surrounding the brain and spinal cord (the meninges).
How do you get it?
Five main groups of bacteria can cause the infection: A, B, C, W-135, and Y. The bacteria are mainly spread by the transmission of oral secretions (e.g., kissing, sharing drinks, silverware, etc.). Once spread, they can travel to the meninges and cause meningitis.
Who is at risk?
Meningitis is not common, but 5-10% of the population can carry the bacteria and spread it to others without ever showing symptoms of meningitis.
People living in close quarters such as residence halls have an increased risk of contracting meningitis.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include fever (sudden onset), stiff neck (with pain upon movement), and headache, possibly in combination with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion.
Symptoms begin to show approximately three to seven days after infection.
What do I do if I think I have meningitis?
Go directly to Habif Health and Wellness Center on Shepley Drive on the South 40 during business hours.
After business hours, call EST at 314-935-5555 on campus or 911 off campus.
How is it treated?
Early treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics is crucial because meningitis can be fatal.
The fatality rate is 10-15% even with appropriate medical care. Without treatment it is as high as 40%.
How can I protect myself?
Vaccines are available to prevent meningococcal meningitis:
- The primary vaccine will guard against those cases of meningitis caused by strains A, C, W-135, and Y. This vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Association (FDA) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is required for entrance to most colleges and universities, including Wash U. Wash U requires it for all freshmen and recommends it for all students living in residence. Available at Habif, it is covered by most insurance companies. Use the student portal to make an appointment.
- A second vaccine now protects against the B strain of bacteria that was responsible for several recent university outbreaks. The B vaccine is not yet recommended by the CDC for widespread use. However, CDC does state anyone age 16 through 23 can be vaccinated and encourages patients to make an appointment with their health care provider. It is covered by most insurance companies including the WashU United Health Plan. Check with your insurance company regarding coverage and make an appointment with your Habif provider to discuss this new vaccine. We recommend it for any student living in residence and have this vaccine in stock.
Don’t assume you’re immune. The primary vaccine has not always been included in the standard vaccinations during childhood and the new Meningitis B vaccine has only been available for a few years. Check your immunization records. There is a good chance that you have not had one or both vaccines and are susceptible to infection.