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What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is any inflammation of the meninges, a membrane which surrounds the brain and spinal cord and encloses the cerebral-spinal fluid, which bathes the central nervous system. Meningococcal disease is serious and can be fatal, though 90%-95% of the people it infects recover with antibiotic therapy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include severe headache, fever, rigidly stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest), possibly alterations of the level of consciousness, and sometimes a purplish or reddish rash that doesn't blanch when pressure is applied to skin. Fortunately, meningococci aren't nearly as contagious as the common cold or influenza; they are not spread by simply breathing the same air where a person with meningococcal disease has been. Meningococci spread among people through the exchange of saliva and other respiratory secretions during activities like coughing, kissing, and children chewing on toys.

Is there a way to prevent it?

Meningococcal vaccine is effective against four serogroups (A, C, Y, and W-135) of Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease. Unfortunately, most cases of meningococcal disease in Oregon are caused by serogroup B, a strain not covered by the vaccine. This means that the vaccine will not prevent most of our cases. Meningococcal vaccine is not required for entrance to PSU.

Am I at risk?

Meningococcal Meningitis tends to occur in young age groups. College freshman living in dorms are at a moderately increased risk. A total of ten cases occurred in Oregon college students between 1993 and 2004, or about 0.7 cases per 100,000 college students per year - less than the statewide average. The risk of vaccine-preventable meningococcal disease, is, therefore, low among Oregon college students. Close contacts of cases (household members, close friends) are at elevated risk of disease; after a case occurs, these persons should take antibiotics to prevent the infection. School classmates, those living in other dormitory rooms, and health-care workers attending the case are generally not at elevated risk.

What if I still want the vaccine?

We recommend the following clinic if you feel the vaccine is necessary for you. The Traveler's Clinic of the Multmomah County Health Department offers the vaccine for $140. They are located at 426 SW Stark in downtown Portland. Please call 503-988-3406 for an appointment.

Bottom Line

Seek care immediately if the symptoms Meningitis of appear. Keep yourself healthy with good nutrition and adequate rest.

CD summary August 9, 2005 Vol. 54, No. 16