Information for Students and Parents
On October 20, 1999, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) modified its guidelines for the use of meningococcal vaccine to prevent bacterial
meningitis. Citing results of two CDC studies done in 1998 which identified the slightly higher risk among college
freshmen dormitory residents, the ACIP recommended that students and parents be provided information about
meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination. This decision is consistent with the American College Health
Association’s (ACHA) 1997 recommendation that college students should consider vaccination to reduce their risk
for the potentially fatal meningococcal disease.
Although meningococcal disease is rare, it is a high-risk event. The following information is being provided to
educate parents and students about the disease so that an informed choice can be made about vaccination.
Meningococcal disease is an extremely devastating disease with potentially fatal consequences that has
occurred with increasing frequency in recent years among teenagers and young adults. Meningococcal
disease, caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, can result in hearing loss, kidney failure,
amputation of the limbs and permanent brain injury. The disease most commonly is expressed as either
meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord or
meningococcemia, a presence of bacteria in the blood. Because meningococcal disease can cause grave
illness and rapidly progress to death, it requires early diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms: The disease can easily be misdiagnosed as something less serious, because symptoms are
similar to the flu. The most common symptoms include fever, headaches, neck stiffness, confusion, rash,
nausea, vomiting and lethargy. Anyone with similar symptoms should contact a physician immediately.
Transmission: Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory
secretions (such as coughing or sneezing) and direct contact with infected individuals. Oral contact with
shared items such as cigarettes or drinking glasses or through intimate contact such as kissing could put a
person at risk for acquiring the infection.
Incidence: Meningococcal disease occurs rarely and sporadically throughout the year, although outbreaks
tend to occur in late winter and early spring- when college classes are in session. The incidence of
meningococcal disease in the United States is about 3,000 cases annually. The case fatality rate is
approximately 12%. An estimated 100-125 cases of meningococcal disease occur annually among college
students and 5 to 15 students die as a result. Since 1991, cases of meningococcal disease among 15-24
year olds have more than doubled. Since 1996, there have been 51 outbreaks, six of which occurred in
Risk: Research shows that students living in dormitories, particularly freshmen are at higher risk for
meningococcal disease than college students are overall. Data suggests that certain behavioral factors
such as alcohol consumption, bar patronage and tobacco use (both active and passive smoking) may
increase the risk for contracting meningococcal disease. Other groups at increased risk include those in
close contact with a known case, upper respiratory infections with compromised immune systems, and
person’s traveling to endemic areas of the world.
Treatment: The disease progresses rapidly, often in as little as 12 hours. Early recognition, performance
of a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), and prompt initiation of antimicrobial therapy are crucial. Anyone who
has had close, intimate contact with a person diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis should see a
physician immediately for prophylactic antibiotic treatment.
The majority of meningococcal cases in the college age group are preventable with the meningococcal
vaccine currently available in the U.S. The American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends
that all college students should “consider vaccination to reduce their risk” for the potentially fatal
There are two vaccines available in the U.S. Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4 marketed
as Menomune) has been available since the 1970s. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4 marketed
as Menactra) was licensed in 2005.
MCV4 is the preferred vaccine for people 11-55 years of age, but MPSV4 can be used if MCV4 is not
Immunization against the meningococcus bacterium may be recommended when an outbreak of
meningococcal disease has occurred in the college community. Immunization should not be used in place
of prophylactic antibiotics for those exposed to an infected person.
MCV4 is now recommended for all children 11-12 years of age.
REDUCING THE RISK OF EXPOSURE
Maximize your body’s own immune system response. A lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, adequate
sleep, appropriate exercise, and the avoidance of excessive stress is very important.
Avoiding upper respiratory tract infections and inhalation of cigarette smoke may help to protect from
Everyone should be sensitive to public health measures that decrease exposure to oral secretions, such as
covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing and washing hands after contact with oral secretions. In
particular, do not make a habit of sharing drinks and cigarettes.
WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF AN OUTBREAK
Report any suspected or diagnosed case of meningococcal disease (on campus or in neighboring communities)
to the Office of Health and Safety at 768-1755. Our Lady of the Lake College has been a member institution of
the American College Health Association (ACHA) since 1997 and uses the ACHA response plan to
appropriately and expeditiously respond to sporadic cases or an outbreak of meningococcal disease.
WHERE TO OBTAIN THE VACCINE
The vaccine is available at the Total Occupational Medicine Clinic, but call ahead to ensure the availability.
The phone number for the Drusilla Rd. location is 924-4460. The cost for the vaccine is $90.00. The vaccine
may also be available from your primary health care provider or through the Public Health Department.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information about meningococcal disease, please contact the office of Health and Safety at 768-
1755. Or check the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/meningococcal_g.htm
References: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The American College Health Association (ACHA)
prepared by DLG/Office of Health & Safety/OLOL College August 2005