Meningitis means inflammation of a membranous covering of the brain and spinal cord.  It may have several causes.  The most serious is the bacterial form, Neisseria meningitidis, because it strikes swiftly and sometimes fatally.

How does this happen?

Actually, about 10% of the population are carriers, which means that the bacteria lives in the back of the throat or respiratory tract.  It usually doesn't bother the carrier.

How does someone know if they are a carrier?

They probably don't.  And when a throat culture shows the bacteria, and we treat the person, it does clear up.  But guess what?  If the person is re-cultured a few weeks later, they may be a carrier again.

So, how is it spread?

The bacteria are spread from person to person, through droplets of throat or respiratory tract secretions.  Close contact is required:

  • kissing
  • crowded condition
  • frequently eating or sleeping in the same dwelling
  • sharing eating and drinking utensils

 

So, if someone has close contact with a carrier and gets the bacteria in their throat, what happens?

One of several scenarios is possible:

  • Maybe nothing!  In other words, the body isn't receptive, or the immune system takes care of it.
  • Maybe a slight sore throat for a few days, then the person recovers.
  • Maybe they become a carrier.
  • Rarely, the bacteria invades the body (within 1-10 days of exposure) and can be found in the blood or cerebrospinal fluid causing the person to have symptoms such as fever, chills, general discomfort, loss of strength, and a rash.  What is scary is that death can occur within hours despite appropriate therapy.  Some people do not respond to treatment and survive.

 

Is there anything that puts someone at greater risk than the next person for getting the disease?

Sure!

  • Someone who has an immunocompromising chronic disease such as AIDS or lupus.
  • Someone who is already sick when they come into contact with a carrier.
  • Someone who is continually run down, "burning the candle at both ends." 

Can I do anything to avoid catching it?

Absolutely!

  • Don't share food or beverages.
  • Stay home when sick (which lessens exposure to other germs)
  • Balance rest, school, and play
  • Eat healthfully
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol
  • Avoid smoke or smoky environments 

 

What about the vaccine?

A vaccine is available for several (but not all) strains of the bacteria.  It lasts at least three to five years.  It's safe and easy to take with minimal side effects of low-grade fever, redness and soreness at the injection site for a couple of days.  For unknown reasons, 5-15% of people taking this vaccine may not build antibodies, or protection.  The vaccine does not completely protect an individual from meningitis.

Should a college student take the vaccine?

Absolutely! The American College Health Association recommends that college freshmen living in residence halls should receive it.  Read the most recent recommendations from the CDC on the Meningitis Vaccine.  If the college student, or anyone else, is traveling to an area of the world where the disease is endemic (continually prevailing in a certain region), the vaccine is recommended.

Click on these to learn more:

     Meningococcal Disease from the CDC

     Meningococcal Vaccine from the CDC

For more information, call McKinley Health Center:

     Dial-A-Nurse at 333-2700

     Immunization and Travel Clinic at 333-2702

Local Emergency Departments:

     Carle Foundation Hospital, located at 610 W. Park, Urbana - 383-3313 or 

     Provena Covenant Medical Center, located at 1400 W. Park, Urbana - 337-2131