Meningococcal Disease is a serious bacterial infection that results in meningitis, nervous system injury, dysfunction of vital organs, severe disabilities, or death.
How is it spread? This and many other communicable diseases are spread by close contact with the respiratory and oral secretions of people who carry the bacterial organism in their bodies, sometimes without symptoms. Meningococcal infection can be transmitted via coughing, sneezing, kissing, and sharing beverages, food, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, etc.
Symptoms initially resemble the flu, but rapidly become severe and can include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, weakness and confusion. People with these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Why special concerns for college students? Although meningococcal infection is not particularly common, the risk of getting this potentially fatal disease peaks during the teens and early twenties. Risk is magnified for those living in group settings. In addition, protective immunity from meningococcal vaccine decreases after 4-5 years. This can leave those who were vaccinated at an early adolescent age with insufficient protection during their college years.
What are the CDC recommendations for college students? The CDC calls for everyone to get an initial dose of meningococcal vaccine at age 11 or 12, followed by a second dose at age 16 or soon thereafter. The CDC states that college students under age 22 who received all doses before age 16 should get an additional dose of vaccine now. College students under 22 who have never received meningococcal vaccine should also get this immunization now. Individuals of any age planning travel to risk locations or working in high risk settings who’ve never been immunized or who were immunized more than 4-5 years ago should also receive a dose of meningococcal vaccine.
Meningococcal Vaccine and Where to Get It: Standard meningococcal vaccines protect against four of the five most common serogroups of meningococcal bacteria. Immunity takes two weeks to develop and protection lasts 4-5 years. This vaccine is offered to SSU students by the Student Health Center (subject to availability). Students are charged only for the Health Center’s costs to purchase the vaccine. Call the SHC at 707 664-2921 for information or an appointment, or see your off campus health care provider.
A vaccine active against only the serogroup B meningococcal strain can be given in addition to the standard vaccine, as the standard vaccine doesn’t provide immunity against serogroup B. Serogroup B vaccine is recommended for those with immune compromising conditions and those exposed during a serogroup B outbreak. It requires a series of 2 or 3 doses and should be given in addition rather than in place of the standard meningococcal vaccine. It can also be given to young people who do not have the risk factors above, but simply wish to reduce their risk of type B meningococcal meningitis.
Risk Reduction Strategies: Since no vaccine is 100% effective, all individuals should reduce their risk of exposure to harmful infectious organisms by washing their hands regularly and avoiding oral contact with the food, drinks, eating utensils, etc. of others. They should also avoid circumstances that lower resistance to infection such as smoking, lack of rest, erratic diet, unwise use of alcohol and other drugs, etc. For more information, check the CDC website.