Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria Meningitidis. It is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) in the 2-18yr. old age range, but can also cause serious blood infections. The disease is spread by the exchange of respiratory (sneezing and coughing) and throat (saliva) secretions during close or lengthy contact with an infected individual. Fortunately it is not as contagious as viruses like the common cold or the flu. College freshman living in dorms are considered a high risk group for contracting meningococcal disease. The most common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are: high fever, headache, stiff neck. Other typical symptoms include confusion, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and rash.
There are approximately 1000 -1200 cases of meningococcal disease in the United States each year. The fatality rate for meningococcal disease is 10-14% even with timely, appropriate antibiotics. Of those individuals that survive, up to 20% can have permanent disabilities resulting from the disease including; brain damage/learning disabilities, hearing loss, or loss of limb.
Prevention of Meningococcal Disease
The best way to protect yourself against meningococcal disease is through receiving the recommended vaccines.
It is recommended that all individuals between ages 11-18 receive 2 doses of a quadrivalent vaccine (MCV4). Ideally, the first dose should be given between 11 and 12 with a booster given at 16. If a previous dose was given prior to age 16, it is recommended that a booster dose be given prior to entering College and living in a College dorm.
The quadrivalent vaccines are highly effective against serogroups A, C, Y, and W135. The majority of meningococcal cases in individuals older than 11 years of age in the US are caused by serogroups C, Y, and W.
Due to several recent outbreaks of Serogroup B disease, there are now two vaccines available against serogroup B.
The CDC recently published the current recommendation put out by the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) in that individuals greater than 10 years of age who are considered at risk for Serogroup B infection should receive either the 2 dose Bexsero vaccine, or the 3 dose Trumenda vaccine.
Individuals at risk include:
- Individuals without a functioning spleen (spleen removed, or not functioning as in some cases of sickle cell disease),
- Individuals either born with or subsequently develop via autoimmune type conditions, complement component deficiencies, and
- Those individuals who work in outbreak areas.
Individuals age 16-23 outside these at risk groups received a Category B recommendation from the ACIP regarding the vaccine. This means that they may be vaccinated for short term protection based on individual decision making, such as College Students during a Serogroup B outbreak.
Please note: It is a Pennsylvania State Law that all college students residing in a dormitory must either receive the meningitis vaccine (quadrivalent vaccine is the CDC and F&M recommended vaccine), or sign a waiver declining the vaccine for “religious or other reasons.” You will not be able to receive your room key on Move-in Day without submitting proof of the vaccine or the signed waiver.
For more information on meningococcal disease or meningococcal vaccine, you can refer to the following websites: