Q&A Meningococcal Meningitis

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What is Meningococcal Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. The disease is expressed as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.


What Causes Meningococcal Meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium Neisseria Meningitidis, a leading cause of meningitis and septicemia (or blood poisoning) in teenagers and young adults in the United States. Meningitis and septicemia are the most common manifestations of the disease, although they have been expressed as septic arthritis, pneumonia, brain inflammation and other syndromes.


How is Meningococcal Meningitis Spread?

Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions and by direct contact with an infected person. Direct contact, for these purposes, is defined as oral contact with shared items, such as cigarettes or drinking glasses, or through intimate contact such as kissing.


Who is at Risk?

Recent evidence indicates that college students residing on campus in dormitories or residence halls appear to be at higher risk for meningococcal meningitis than college students overall. Further research recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows freshman living in dormitories have a six-fold increased risk for meningococcal meningitis than college students overall.

Although anyone can be a carrier of the bacteria that causes meningococcal meningitis, data indicate certain social behaviors, such as exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage and excessive alcohol consumption may put college students at increased risk for the disease. Patients with respiratory infections, compromised immunity, those in close contact to a known case and travelers to endemic areas of the world are also at increased risk. Cases and outbreaks usually occur in the late winter and early spring when school is in session.


Does the CDC Recommend Vaccination for College Students?

On October 20, 1999, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend that college students, particularly freshman living in dormitories, be educated about meningococcal meningitis and the potential benefits of vaccination. ACIP further recommends that immunization should be provided or made easily available to those freshmen who wish to reduce their risk for meningococcal meningitis. Other undergraduate students wishing to reduce their risk for meningococcal meningitis can also choose to be vaccinated.


How Effective is the Vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine has been shown to provide protection against the most common strains of the disease, including serogroups A, C, Y, and W-135. The vaccine is 85 to 100 percent effective in serogroups A and C in older children and adults.


Is the Vaccine Safe? Are there Adverse Side Effects to the Vaccine?

The vaccine is very safe and adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, consisting primarily of redness and pain at the site of injection lasting up to two days.


What is the Duration of Protection?

The duration of the meningococcal vaccine's efficacy is approximately three to five years. As with any vaccine, vaccination against meningitis may not protect 100 percent of all susceptible individuals.