Meningitis Information

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. The disease is expressed as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord or meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.

What causes meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a leading cause of meningitis and septicemia (or blood poisoning) in the United States. Meningitis is one of the most common manifestations of the disease, although it has been known to cause septic arthritis, pneumonia, brain inflammation and other syndromes.

How is meningococcal disease spread?

Meningococcal disease is transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions and direct contact with an infected person. Direct contact, for these purposes, is defined as oral contact with shared items such as cigarettes or drinking glasses, or through intimate contact such as kissing.

What are the symptoms?

The early symptoms usually associated with meningococcal disease include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy, and may resemble the flu. Because the disease progresses rapidly, often in as little as 12 hours, students are urged to seek medical care immediately if they experience two or more of these symptoms concurrently.

Who is at risk?

Evidence found students residing on campus in dormitories appear to be at higher risk for meningococcal disease than college students overall. Further research released by the CDC shows freshmen living in dormitories have a six times higher risk of meningococcal disease than college students overall.

Why should college students consider vaccination with the meningococcal vaccine?

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrate increasing incidence of outbreaks on college campuses. Data further suggests that sub-populations of college students are at increased risk for meningococcal disease. Pre-exposure vaccination enhances immunity to four strains of meningococcus that cause 65 to 70 percent of invasive disease and therefore reduces a student's risk for disease. Development of immunity post-vaccination requires 7-10 days.

Who should be vaccinated pre-exposure?

  • Entering college students, particularly those living in dormitories or residence halls, who elect to decrease their risk for meningococcal disease.
  • Undergraduate students 25 years of age or under who request vaccination in order to decrease their risk for disease and are not pregnant.
  • Students with medical conditions that compromise immunity (e.g., HIV, absent spleen, antibody deficiency).
  • Students traveling to areas of the world with endemic meningococcal disease.

For additional information, contact the Center for Disease Control at 800.232.2522 or