Health Information on Meningitis

What is meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious, life-threatening bacterial infection that is caused by bacteria that infects the lining of the brain. This disease is potentially dangerous because it is often mistaken for a minor cold or flu, and is most often ignored.

What causes meningococcal meningitis?

Meningitis is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides or Streptococcus pneumonia. One incident in a resident hall can cause a major life-threatening outbreak among those who are not currently immunized.

How does meningitis spread?

Meningitis is contagious and is spread through the exchange of respiratory or throat secretions from coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact, such as kissing, smoking cigarettes, or sharing a glass with someone.

Who is at risk for meningitis?

Certain groups such as infants, teenagers and college students are more at risk for developing the disease than others. Therefore, since college freshmen living in dorms are most likely teenagers, they are at the highest increased risk for meningitis. This is mostly related to their high level of contact with others, living in small, crowded spaces and sharing items. In addition, many teens go to crowded events, play on sports teams and share all kinds of items. If an individual is a carrier, (a person who carries the germs of the disease) the bacteria can travel from that person to another person.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of meningitis are critical and potentially lifesaving. The most common "early symptoms" are similar to the flu. Many people complain of having a severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. These symptoms can develop over several hours or they may take one to two days. Because this disease progresses very quickly, students are urged to seek medical attention at Health Services if they experience two or more symptoms concurrently.

What steps can I take to avoid getting meningitis?

The American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends that all college students consider being vaccinated against this disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveillance reports an increasing incidence of outbreaks on college campuses in the past few years, and the CDC supports ACHA’s recommendations. This vaccine is given in the subcutaneous tissue of the arm and warrants immunity from the Streptococcus pneumonia and Neisseria meningitidis. A booster is indicated in three to five years from the first vaccine.

Should you have any questions about meningitis, please feel free to call Health Services Department at 740-245-7389 or 740-245-7350, or you may e-mail any questions to