Understanding meningitis is key to prevention, treatment

April 03, 2009

Meningitis, also called spinal meningitis, is an infection of the spinal cord fluid and fluid surrounding the brain. This infection may be caused by a virus or bacteria and is typically diagnosed by doing cultures of the spinal fluid.
Although viral and bacterial meningitis may have similar symptoms initially, most patients with viral meningitis have less severe symptoms and recover on their own. Unlike viral meningitis, patients with bacterial meningitis can have severe symptoms, possibly with lifelong consequences. Because early symptoms may be similar, it is important to be checked by a health care provider as soon as possible.
Meningococcal meningitis is a form of bacterial meningitis that is treated with antibiotics. This is a serious infection that may develop rapidly.

Early symptoms may include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright lights, confusion and lethargy.
Meningococcal meningitis bacteria are spread by activities such as kissing; sharing eating utensils, cigarettes, drink containers and toothbrushes; and by prolonged, close contact with an infected person.

Anyone who has direct contact with a diagnosed person’s oral secretions or lives in the same household is considered to have an increased risk of acquiring the infection. These individuals should receive prophylactic antibiotics from a health care provider to decrease their risk of developing the infection.
College students are strongly encouraged to get the meningococcal vaccine prior to starting at Penn State; those who live in University-owned housing are required by Pennsylvania law to either be immunized against meningococcal disease or complete a waiver of exemption.

The vaccine is effective in preventing four types of meningococcal disease, including two of the three most common types in the United States. Unfortunately, the vaccine cannot prevent all types of the disease and may not be effective in 100 percent of people who receive it, which is the reason for prophylactic treatment of all close contacts of infected individuals.
Students can get the meningococcal vaccine at University Health Services by scheduling an appointment online at www.sa.psu.edu/uhs or by calling (814) 863-0774.
For more information about meningitis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at at http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.htm.

Last Updated April 06, 2009