UHS puts Penn State community at ease, explains meningitis

February 19, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Recent reports from the University of Pennsylvania have raised concerns about meningitis at Penn State. According to Shelley Haffner, infection control nurse manager at University Health Services (UHS), there have not been any cases reported at University Park this year. The recent concern does, however, provide an opportunity to learn about these infections.
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 life-long consequences. Because early symptoms may be similar, it is important to be checked by a healthcare 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. Symptoms may develop rapidly and for this reason, it is important to get medical care as soon as possible.
Meningococcal meningitis bacteria are spread by activities such as kissing, sharing eating utensils, 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 (such as a girlfriend or boyfriend) or lives in the same household is considered to have an increased risk of acquiring 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 4 types of meningococcal disease, including two of the three most common types in the U.S. 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 Website at at http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.htm

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Last Updated March 19, 2009