As Director of Health Services here at Bates College, I am writing to provide you with information about meningitis and the meningitis vaccine. In recent years, there have been new recommendations regarding meningitis vaccine for college students. Additionally, increased media attention has contributed to heightened awareness of the disease as well as some confusion.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord caused by either viruses 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 age students is most likely caused by Neisseria meningitis or Streptococcus pneumoniae. Because meningococcal meningitis can cause grave illness and in rare instances death, it requires early diagnosis and treatment. In contrast to viral meningitis, persons who have had intimate contact with an individual require prophylactic therapy. Untreated meningococcal disease can be fatal.
A vaccine is available that protects against four types of the bacteria that causes meningitis in the United States – types A, C, Y and W-135. These types account for nearly two thirds of meningitis cases among college students.
Since 1998, the Bates College Health Center has recommended, but not required, the meningococcal vaccine to all students entering Bates College. I encourage you and your son or daughter to learn more about the meningitis vaccine and to discuss the vaccine with your health care provider. Additional information is available on the Centers for Disease Control website.
Christy Tisdale, M.S.N., ANP
Director of Health Services