Most people know from news reports that meningitis is serious and contagious, but not much more than that. Here are a few things to know as schools open their doors for a new school year.
Meningitis is an infection resulting from the inflammation of the meninges which are the delicate membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. While meningitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, bacterial meningitis is the most common, is often the most severe, and can quickly become life-threatening, spreading easily through human contact (like through coughing, sneezing, or even kissing).
While people of any age can contract meningitis, college students and teens tend to be particularly susceptible because of their tendency to live or congregate in close quarters where there is a much higher risk of infection. This is especially true for first-year college students who opt to live in dormitories, as well as those students in boarding schools. And without a watchful parent around, students can become seriously ill with roommates and friends being unaware—and vulnerable.
The symptoms of meningitis are not easy to spot since the disease may come right on the heels of a flu-like illness. Bacterial meningitis symptoms may develop within hours, while viral meningitis may take a few days to develop.
The hallmark symptoms of meningitis are fever, a severe headache, and stiffness in the neck. Additional symptoms include:
- Lethargy and sluggishness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Confusion and disorientation (acting “goofy”)
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Seizure and coma are the most severe symptoms
Meningitis can be spread through close contact such as:
- Sharing food or drinks
- Living closely with other people
- Living in a smoky environment
- Coughing and sneezing
Ten to 15 percent of cases lead to death, while another 19 percent live with permanent disabilities. Because meningitis can be so serious, immediate medical care is essential and should be diagnosed and treated immediately. Meningitis is an emergency that is best evaluated by an emergency department.
But don’t fret just yet; meningitis vaccines have proven to be particularly effective in preventing most forms of meningitis and has become required by many states and for students entering the country. Additionally, the American College Health Association recommends that schools provide access to this vaccine or that students seek to get it themselves.
The vaccine can be given to teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 years. If your school or your child’s school does not require the vaccine, it is still highly recommended. The National Meningitis Association, a nonprofit organization working to protect families from the potentially devastating effects of the meningococcal disease, has several stories that underscore the danger of meningitis, many of which could have been prevented with a vaccine. During the past 10 years, meningitis outbreaks have become more frequent, making the vaccine even more important.
The vaccine typically costs between $65 to $85 and is often covered by insurance or provided by the school. LewerMark covers the vaccine under the wellness portion of our student insurance.
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