Meningitis is an infection that can lead to a dangerous swelling of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability, or death. About 2600 people get bacterial meningitis each year in the U.S. 10 to 15% of these cases are fatal, in spite of treatment with antibiotics.
College students have a greater risk of bacterial meningitis infection than the general population because of activities that are often part of college life, such as living in residence halls, eating in dining halls and attending classes.
Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through air droplets and direct contact with anyone already infected with the disease. The infection is spread through close contact with oral secretions, such as shared drinks, utensils and cigarettes, through coughing, or through intimate contact such as kissing.
Early symptoms of meningitis may include:
- High fever
- Severe headache
- Neck stiffness
- Sensitivity to light
Because the infection progresses rapidly, you should seek immediate medical care if 2 or more of these symptoms occur at the same time. If you are a Loyola student and have 2 or more of these symptoms at the same time, contact Student Health and Education Services at 410-617-5055 without delay.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important, however, that treatment be started early in the course of the disease. Appropriate antibiotic treatment should reduce the risk of fatal meningitis to below 15%, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
You can minimize your risk of bacterial meningitis by receiving a vaccine. The meningitis vaccine is generally safe and effective and is used for immunization against bacteria strains A, C, Y, and W-135, which account for about 70% of bacterial meningitis cases. At this time, it is unclear how long immunity lasts, so booster shots may be required in the future. As with any vaccine, not all individuals will be protected 100% after receiving the immunization.
The bacterial meningitis vaccine is generally well tolerated with a low incidence of side effects. Some people may experience a local reaction (warmth, redness, swelling, or soreness) at the injection site for 1 to 2 days. However, as with any drug or vaccine, there is a possibility that allergic or other more serious reactions may occur.
You should NOT get the meningitis vaccine if you have:
- A serious, active infection
- Hypersensitivity or allergy to thimerosal (a preservative used in eye drops and vaccines)
- If you are or planning to become pregnant
For more information about meningitis and the vaccine, please contact Student Health and Education Services at 410-617-5055.