FAQ Meningococcal Disease

FAQ Meningococcal Disease

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about Meningococcal Disease

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but potentially fatal, bacterial infection, and most commonly leads to meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcal septicemia, an infection of the blood.

What causes meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in older children and young adults in the United States. There are five types of bacteria (or serogroups) for meningococcal disease that circulate worldwide: A, B, C, Y, and W-135. Evidence shows approximately 70 to 80 percent of cases in the college age group are caused by serogroup C, Y, or W-135, which are potentially vaccine-preventable.

How many people get meningococcal disease each year?

Meningococcal disease strikes 1,000-1,200 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 150 to 300 deaths. Adolescents and young adults account for nearly 30 percent of all cases of meningitis in the United States. Approximately 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease occur on college campuses each year, and five to 15 students will die as a result.

How serious is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal infection is contagious and progresses very rapidly. It can easily be misdiagnosed as the flu or other infections characterized by fever, and, if not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities. One in five of those who survive will suffer these long-term side effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, or limb amputation.

How is meningococcal disease spread?

Meningococcal disease is spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets (e.g., coughing, sneezing). The bacteria also can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, such as oral contact with shared items like cigarettes or drinking glasses, and through kissing.

What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease often resemble those of the flu or other minor illnesses characterized by fever, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and confusion.

Students who notice these symptoms in themselves, friends or others should contact UNH Health Services or hospital immediately.

Who is at risk of getting meningococcal disease?

Anyone can get meningococcal disease. Certain groups, though, are at higher risk. These include infants, adolescents, individuals with certain diseases and medications or surgical procedures that may weaken the immune system, and college students, particularly those living in residence halls. Disease rates decline after infancy, but begin to rise again in early adolescence peaking between the ages of 15 and 20 years.

Due to lifestyle factors, such as crowded living situations, bar patronage, active or passive smoking, irregular sleep patterns, and sharing of personal items, some college students may be more likely to acquire meningococcal disease than the general college population.

Certain conditions also increase a person’s susceptibility to the disease. Persons with immature or damaged immune systems are at increased risk. Respiratory tract infections also increase a person’s risk of getting the disease. There also may be certain genetic factors that increase the risk of infection.

Should college students consider getting the meningococcal vaccine?

Due to increased incidence of meningococcal disease among adolescents and young adults, including college students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends the following:

  • All first-year students living in residence halls should receive the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine
  • Students with medical conditions or undergoing treatments that compromise immunity, (e.g., HIV, absent spleen, antibody deficiency, chemotherapy, immuno-supressants) should receive the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine
  • Other students 25 years of age or younger who wish to reduce their risk for the disease may choose to be vaccinated
  • Anyone traveling to or living in a part of the world where meningococcal disesase is common, such as parts of Africa.

Who does the CDC recommend get a booster dose of vaccine?

Persons who are at increased risk from meningococcal disease (this includes colleges students living in residence halls up to age 21) should receive a booseter dose if it has been 5 or more years since the original dose. 

How effective is vaccination?

The meningococcal vaccine provides protection against four of the five types of N. meningitidis bacteria that cause meningococcal disease in the United States – types A, C, Y, and W-135. In persons 15 to 24 years of age, 70 to 80 percent of cases are caused by potentially vaccine-preventable strains. As with any vaccine, meningococcal vaccination may not protect 100% of susceptible individuals.

Is vaccination safe? Are there any adverse side effects?

The vaccine is safe, and adverse reactions are mild and infrequent. The most commonly reported reactions by adolescents and adults in clinical studies were pain at the injection site, headache, and fatigue. These respond to simple measures (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and resolve spontaneously within a few days.

Meningococcal immunization should be deferred during any acute illness. The vaccine should not be administered to pregnant women or individuals sensitive to components of the vaccine.

Does UNH Health Services offer the meningococcal vaccine on campus?

Yes, UNH Health Services offers the meningococcal vaccine for all first-year students living in residence halls and any other college student under 25 years of age who wishes to reduce his or her risk for this disease.

To schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine call (603) 862-2856.

What is the cost of the meningococcal vaccine?

The cost of the vaccine is $126 for eligible students who have paid their health fee, and $140 for other students who have not paid the health fee, e.g., non-degree students.

Whom can students and parents contact for additional information about meningococcal meningitis and the vaccine?

For additional information on meningococcal disease and vaccination, parents and students can call UNH Health Services, (603) 862-2856, or visit our web site: www.unh.edu/health-services.

Additional Information