Meningococcal Disease And College Students

Approximately 2,600 cases of Meningococcal Disease occur each year in the United States. Of these, approximately 100 to 125 cases of Meningococcal Disease occur annually on college campuses and 5 to 15 students die as a result of the disease. Meningococcal Disease can also cause brain damage or loss of an arm or leg, states Diane O'Hora, Director of Health Education at the Broome County Health Department.

Meningococcal Disease is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream or the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Freshman college students, especially those who live in dormitories, are at modestly higher risk of meningococcal disease than are other people in their age group, says Ms. Chytilo. Freshman students can reduce their risk for this disease by being vaccinated. Other students, who wish to reduce their risk for the disease, may also be vaccinated. She states that the vaccine lasts for approximately three to five years.

The bacteria are spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing. Anyone with direct contact with a patient's oral secretions is considered at increased risk of acquiring the infection, warns Ms. Chytilo.

Students should look for symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, high temperature, severe headaches, neck stiffness, sensitivity to bright lights, irritability, confusion, drowsiness and joint pain. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take a day or two to develop.

Meningococcal Disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important, Ms. Chytilo says. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a health care provider immediately.

For more information about the Meningococcal vaccine, contact your health service or the Broome County Health Department at 607.778.2839.