North Carolina law requires that educational institutions with residential housing provide information to incoming students and parents about meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness. It can occur as meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or as meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood. Meningococcal disease is dangerous because its initial symptoms often mimic those of influenza or other respiratory infections or migraine headaches. Because of this, it is often misdiagnosed initially. Early symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and extreme fatigue. Meningococcal infections progress quickly. Approximately 10 percent of people affected by meningococcal disease die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Another 10 percent suffer from permanent brain damage, deafness, limb amputation, or kidney failure.
The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person by direct contact with someone who is infected or through droplets released into the air through coughing. It can be spread by kissing, sharing a cigarette or drinking glass, eating utensils or anything else that an infected person has touched with his or her mouth.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease but lifestyle factors common among college students seem to be linked to the disease: crowded living conditions such as residence halls, going to bars, smoking, and irregular sleep habits. Fortunately, the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, but freshmen living in residence halls are at slightly increased risk of getting the disease.
Vaccines are now available to help protect against the serotypes of meningococcal disease that are most commonly seen in the United States. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra or Menveo) is recommended for freshmen living in residence halls or for other students who want to lower their risk of the disease. The CDC recommends that the first vaccine be given at age 11 or 12 with a booster dose at age 16. If the first dose is received at age 16 or later a booster dose in not needed. Meningococcal vaccine should be available from your primary care physician or your local Health Department.
The CDC and ACIP (American Council of Immunization Practices) are not currently recommending routine use of serogroup B vaccines (Trumemba or Bexsero) in otherwise healthy college students in settings where there is not a current confirmed outbreak of this disease. The vaccines are recommended for persons age 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections, including persons without a spleen, persons with a rare immune system illness called "persistent complement component deficiency", persons taking the medication Soliris (eculizumab) and microbiologists that work with meningococcal isolates.
You can obtain additional information about meningococcal disease and the vaccine by visiting the Meningitis Foundation of American, the National Meningitis Association, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.