College Students Vulnerable to Meningitis Virus

Family moving their son into dormitory on college campusWarning parents, your college students may consider moving back home for the rest of their freshman year after reading this.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently published a study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reporting that college freshmen living in dorms were more than seven times as likely to acquire the infection leading to meningitis than college students in general and three and a half times as likely as the population of 18- to 23-year-old nonstudents.

Don’t panic! This study also states that a student could substantially reduce their risk of meningitis by getting the vaccination that is currently available for the infection and required in North Carolina by all students with residential housing.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (called meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) says that symptoms often include:

  • high fever
  • stiff neck
  • severe and persistent headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

There may also be changes in behavior such as confusion, sleepiness and difficulty waking.

Young children and infants with meningitis may show signs of irritability, extreme sleepiness, poor appetite and fever, along with other symptoms.

Meningitis can be very fast moving, so if you or your child develop suspicious symptoms, seek help at once. The complications of meningitis can be very serious and the risk of developing complications increases the longer you got without treatment. Complications can include loss of hearing, loss of sight, learning disabilities and brain damage.

What causes it?

Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, the most common is viruses. The AMA says viral meningitis is far more common in the United States than bacterial meningitis. It often occurs in epidemics in the winter months, especially in closed living communities such as dorms or barracks, and usually lasts about ten days, according to NINDS.

Who’s at Risk?

People living in community settings. This includes military personnel, children in day care and college students. American College Health Association (ACHA) officials say young adults account for nearly 30% of all cases of meningitis in the United States. In addition, approximately 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease occur on college campuses each year, and five to 15 students will die as a result.

Can it be prevented?

Some meningitis can be prevented with a vaccine. The CDC recommends routine vaccination with meningococcal conjugate vaccine of children 11-12 years old, previously unvaccinated adolescents at high school entry, new recruits to the military and college freshmen living in dorms. Vaccination may also be appropriate for younger children with certain health problems. You should talk to your child’s doctor about the issue.

These recommendations are designed to help achieve vaccination among those at highest risk for meningococcal disease. Talk to your primary care provider to learn more about meningitis and what you can do to prevent it. For help finding a provider near you, visit CVMG Online or call the CVMC Physician Referral line at 828.485.2300.

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