Meningococcal Disease and Meningitis
Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.
Knowing whether meningitis may be caused by a virus or bacteria is important because the severity of illness and treatment differ. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and resolves without specific treatment, while bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability.
Additional information on bacterial meningitis may be found at:
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms may not be the same for every person. The more common symptoms are fever, severe headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to bright lights, drowsiness or confusion and nausea or vomiting.
Is viral meningitis a serious disease?
Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in persons with normal immune systems. Usually, the symptoms last from 7 to 10 days and the person recovers completely. Often the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are the same. For that reason, if a student has these symptoms, he/she should go to the University Health Center or other health care provider for assessment and treatment.
How is viral meningitis treated?
No specific treatment for viral meningitis exists at this time. Most patients recover completely on their own, and doctors often will recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache.
Is viral meningitis contagious?
The viruses that cause viral meningitis are contagious. However, most people exposed to the viruses causing meningitis will not develop the disease. They may have no symptoms or develop only a cold or rash with low-grade fever. Typically, less than 1 out of 1000 persons infected actually develop meningitis. Therefore, if you are around someone who has viral meningitis, you have a moderate chance of becoming infected but a very small chance of developing meningitis.
How is the virus spread?
Enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis, are most often spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus. This usually happens by shaking hands with an infected person or touching something they have handled, and then rubbing your own nose, mouth or eyes. The incubation period is usually between 3 and 7 days from the time you are infected until you develop symptoms. You can usually spread the virus to someone else beginning about 3 days after you are infected until about 10 days after you develop symptoms.
How can I reduce my chances of becoming infected?
Because most persons who are infected with enteroviruses do not become sick, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus. If you are in contact with someone who has viral meningitis, however, the most effective method of prevention is to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually appear within five days of exposure and include high fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, stiff neck or back, and abdominal, back and extremity pain. Symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 or 2 days. These symptoms, particularly in the early stages, may resemble common upper respiratory ailments such as the cold or flu. If a student experiences progression of cold symptoms to more severe symptoms, including a persistent and severe fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, confusion, extreme physical weakness, and a purplish rash, s/he should immediately contact the University Health Center or his/her health care provider for assessment and treatment.
Is bacterial meningitis contagious?
Bacterial meningitis is contagious; however, it is not easily transmittable. Indirect or casual contact (such as being in the same room with someone who is infected) is not enough to cause transmission of bacterial meningitis. Direct contact with someone who has bacterial meningitis does increase the likelihood of being exposed to it. This includes direct exposure to oral or nasal secretions, which result from the coughing or sneezing of an infected person. Therefore, good hygiene practices help prevent its transmission. Do not share eating or drinking utensils.
Who needs preventive antibiotics to protect against bacterial meningitis?
Persons who have had recent intimate or direct exposure to someone with meningococcal disease may be at increased risk for contracting meningococcal disease and should receive prophylactic medication. Intimate or direct exposure is through kissing, sharing eating utensils or glassware, or droplet contamination with nose or throat secretions from the infected individual.
Can meningitis be treated?
Unlike viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis can be treated through the use of antibiotic therapies. Students with persistent symptoms they are unsure about should contact their Medical Team for an appointment.
University Health Center stresses the importance of being informed on this health issue. Students with any concerns about the potential for bacterial meningitis to affect their health and well-being should not hesitate to contact the health center for information and clarification of their concerns.
If UGA students have further questions about meningococcal disease, the available vaccines, or whether you may have been exposed, they are encouraged to schedule an appointment online, or contact their UHC Medical Clinic for an appointment. Others are advised to contact a personal physician for an appointment or to view the resource links above. Anyone who is extremely anxious about contact or risk of disease, or who is urgently ill should see their physician immediately or go to a local emergency room for evaluation.
UGA Registration Requirements
“In accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, newly admitted students who are 18 years of age or older residing in campus housing as defined by the postsecondary educational institution or residing in sorority or fraternity houses shall be required to sign a document provided by the postsecondary educational institution stating that he or she has received a vaccination against meningococcal disease not more than five years prior to such admittance or reviewed the information provided as required. If a student is a minor, only a parent or guardian may sign such document.”
Information about meningococcal disease and the vaccine are included as part of the UGA Housing contract for UGA on-campus housing, and require signature of the student or parent (if student is under the age of 18).
- Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person’s spinal cord and brain. The two major types are viral and bacterial.
- Meningococcal disease is a contagious, but largely preventable infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain.
- Meningococcal disease is spread by close contact of respiratory secretions, such as drinking directly after someone, kissing, and sharing utensils, or by being coughed or sneezed upon. It is not spread by being in the same classroom or by passing someone on the street.
- Meningococcal disease is a serious disease that can lead to death within only a few hours of onset; one in ten cases is fatal; and one in seven survivors of the disease is left with a severe disability, such as the loss of a limb, developmental disability, paralysis, deafness or seizures.
- Scientific evidence suggests that college students living in dormitory facilities are at a moderately increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
- Immunization against meningococcal disease will decrease the risk of the disease.
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Recommendations for First-Year College Students Living in Residence Halls
- First-year college students living in residence halls should receive at least 1 dose of MenACWY (Menactra or Menveo) before college entry. The preferred timing of the most recent dose is on or after their 16th birthday.
- If only 1 dose of vaccine was administered before the 16th birthday, a booster dose should be administered before enrollment.
- Some schools, colleges, and universities have policies requiring vaccination against meningococcal disease as a condition of enrollment for either incoming first-year students living in residence halls or all incoming first-year students. For ease of program implementation, persons aged ≤21 years should have documentation of receipt of meningococcal conjugate vaccine not more than 5 years before enrollment.
- A second vaccine series for Meningitis B may be administered to adolescents and young adults aged 16–23 years to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease. The preferred age for MenB vaccination is 16–18 years. MenB vaccine should either be administered as a 3-dose series (Trumenba) or a 2-dose series (Bexsero).
- Meningitis A,C,Y, W-135 (MCV4) (Menactra or Menveo)
- Meningitis B (Bexsero or Menveo)