What is Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial Meningitis is a serious, potentially deadly disease that can progress extremely fast. It is inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria that cause meningitis can also infect the blood. This disease strikes about 3,000 Americans each year, including 100-125 on college campuses, leading to 5-15 deaths among college students every year. Those who survive may develop severe health problems or disabilities.

There are 5 primary types of bacteria, A,C,Y,W-135 and B, that cause meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis. There are different vaccines for each group type. There are vaccines that cover the ACYW-135 group, that meet the current state requirement, and there are vaccines for group B meningitis. Although the vaccine that protects against the ACYW-135 strains are currently required, we recommend both. Please consult with your healthcare provider about the benefits of both vaccinations.

Meningococcal Disease (meningitis) is easily spread by direct contact, or by droplets of respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing, kissing, and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). Meningitis is often lethal because people associate early symptoms with the common flu, and don’t seek medical treatment. However, symptoms can progress rapidly, sometimes leading to death in 24-48 hours. Following the initial symptoms, the disease can result in joint infection, pneumonia, organ system failure, and shock.

What are the symptoms:

  • High Fever
  • Severe Headache
  • Rash or Pruple Patches on Skin
  • Vomiting
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Stiff Neck
  • Confusion and Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

How is Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by a medical provider and is usually based on a combination of clinical symptoms and laboratory results from spinal fluid and blood tests. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

How is the disease transmitted?

The disease is transmitted when people exchange saliva (such as by kissing, or by sharing drinking containers, utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, etc.) or come in contact with respiratory or throat secretions.

Behaviors that increase getting Bacterial Meningitis?

Exposure to saliva by sharing cigarettes, water bottles, eating utensils, food, kissing, etc. Living in close conditions (such as sharing a room/suite in a dorm or group home).

What are the possible consequences of the disease?

  • Death (in 8 to 24 hours)
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Learning disability
  • Hearing loss, blindness
  • Limb damage (fingers, toes, arms, legs) that requires amputation
  • Gangrene
  • Coma
  • Convulsions

Is there a treatment for Bacterial Meningitis?

Antibiotic treatment, when received early, can save lives and chances of recovery are increased. However, permanent disability or death can still occur. Vaccinations are available and should be considered for:

  • Those living in close quarters
  • College students 25 years old or younger
    • Required in the state of Texas for incoming students, under the age of 22
  • Vaccinations are effective against the most common bacterial types that cause the disease in the U.S. (but does not protect against all types of meningitis).
  • Vaccinations take 7-10 days to become effective, with protection lasting 3-5 years.
  • The cost of the vaccine varies so check with your health care provider.
  • Vaccination is very safe – most common side effects are redness and minor pain at injection site for up to two days.
  • Contact your Student Health Center at (713) 313-7173 for vaccination locations.

How can I find out more information?

  • Speak with your health care provider.
  • Contact your Student Health Center at (713) 313-7173.
  • Contact the Texas Department of Health office at (512) 458-7111.
  • Visit web sites: http://www.cdc.gov or http://www.acha.org