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Meningococcal Information

Meningococcal Disease and Vaccine Information

What is Meningococcal disease and why should I be concerned?
Meningococcal disease is a rare serious bacterial infection (not to be confused with a viral infection that can cause viral meningitis) that occasionally infects college students and others living in close, confined communities. Siena Health Service wants students to have the latest information about this disease and know how to reduce the risk of exposure.

The infection is caused by an organism called meningococcus, found in nasal and oral secretions. This organism can be transmitted through close personal contact such as:

  • sharing drinking or eating utensils
  • sharing lipstick or Chapstick
  • sharing any object that has been put in the mouth
  • sneezing or coughing on someone
  • sharing cigarettes, cigars, or pipes

Most people who become infected simply carry the organism harmlessly, without illness, and eliminate it from the nose and throat within a short time by developing natural immunity. At any one time, up to 10% of the normal population may be found carrying meningococcus without illness or symptoms. Very rarely, an individual may develop an illness with signs and symptoms of fever, headache, and stiff neck, sometimes with a rash, vomiting, lethargy or change in consciousness. Anyone with these symptoms or any worsening illness accompanied by fever should seek an immediate medical evaluation at the Siena Health Service or the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital.

Since 1991, cases of Meningococcal disease among 15-24 year olds have more than doubled. Recent studies have found evidence that students residing on campus in dormitories appear to be at higher risk for Meningococcal disease. The highest risk appears to for freshmen living in dormitories. Data also suggests that certain social behaviors such as exposure to passive and active smoking, bar patronage, and excessive alcohol consumption may increase a students risk for contracting the disease.

What can be done to prevent Meningococcal Disease?

  • Avoid contact with the nasal and oral secretions of others (checklist above).
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid factors known to compromise the immune system: heavy consumption of alcohol*, lack of sleep, and excessive stress. (*Excessive alcohol consumption is believed by some health authorities to increase susceptibility to Meningococcal disease).

The AmericanCollege Health Association(ACHA) and theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) recommend college students, especially those living in residence halls, consider getting vaccinated to reduce their risk of Meningococcal disease. The Meningococcal vaccine is about 85 percent effective against four subtypes of Meningococcal bacteria, accounting for about two-thirds of the cases of meningitis among 18 to 23 year olds. Protection lasts at least 3 - 5 years. You should be aware that since this vaccine is considered a "preventive" treatment, most health insurance plans will not pay for it.
CAUTION: Anyone who becomes ill with mild, flu-like symptoms should watch for more severe symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, rash, or changes in mental status. If any of these symptoms develop, do not delay seeking medical attention. Call Siena Health Service at 518-783-2554 or dial Security at 911 to arrange for transport to the nearest hospital.