Meningitis annual concern for colleges

Students are required to get meningitis vaccinations.  (Photo provided by the CDC)
Students are required to get meningitis vaccinations. (Photo provided by the CDC)

Winter is coming. That means so is sickness. Many illnesses share common symptoms, so it can be difficult for students to know if they simply have the common cold or something more serious.

This year, there was a case at San Diego State University, where an 18-year-old female student died due to bacterial meningitis, also called meningococcal meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The University of Maryland has reported 20 individual cases of viral meningitis this semester.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

According to the CDC, there are five types of meningitis, the two most common being viral and bacterial.

The symptoms of meningitis, both bacterial and viral, are very similar to the common cold or influenza, which is one reason why it is so dangerous.

“Common symptoms of meningitis are sudden onset of fever, sudden onset of severe headache, stiff neck, nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to light,” Oswego State’s Mary Walker Health Center Director Elizabeth Burns said. “Viral meningitis improves with symptomatic treatment and bacterial meningitis requires antibiotics. It’s important to know the cause and get the appropriate treatment.”

According to the CDC, meningitis is most commonly spread through respiratory secretions, such as saliva, septum or nasal mucus and fecal contamination, making it very easy for the disease to spread on college campuses, especially in residence halls.

Even when treated early, 5 to 10 percent of patients die from bacterial meningococcal meningitis, usually within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms. According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of patients will die if left completely untreated.

Students are required to get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis before enrolling in a college or university. The problem is that the current meningitis vaccines — Menactra or Menveo — only prevent four of the five strains of meningitis.

However, there is a new vaccine called Trumenba, which has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the fifth strain of meningitis. At this time, it is still unclear when the new vaccine will become available.

Many Oswego State students do not realize how dangerous meningococcal meningitis can be.

“I knew you had to get a vaccine before college for meningitis, but I thought that would be enough to protect you,” Oswego State freshman Jalen Buckhout said. “I didn’t realize people could die from it.”

It is important for students to protect themselves not only from meningitis but also from all types of illnesses during the winter season.

“Students are encouraged to get enough sleep, practice good nutrition, wash their hands, avoid getting run down and avoid abusing alcohol and other drugs,” Burns said.