Dangers of Meningitis

*A previous version of this article stated inaccurate information about recent cases of meningitis.*

With the number of college cases of meningitis on the rise, The Colorado Academy of Family Physicians is warning university students across the state and country to be on the lookout for the tell tale signs of this disease. Dr. Rick Budensiek of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians was available to give comments on this dangerous disease. Bacterial meningitis a very virulent disease caused by three types of bacteria: haemophilus influenza type b, Neisseria meningitidis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. These bacteria all cause dangerous swelling of the fluid surrounding the spine and brain. Dr. Budensiek notes that the infection occurs mainly in children, teens, and young adults and is very common on college campuses.

Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through exchange of throat and respiratory secretions (mucus, saliva, etc.) The bacteria are not spread through the air or through common contact such as sitting next to a person who is infected. Instead, the disease is spread through close contact with an infected individual including kissing or sharing drinks and food. Because of this, meningitis is especially common in college-aged students. Meningitis is relatively rare, affecting only about 1,400 to 3,000 people in the U.S. However, about a quarter of those cases occurred on college campuses especially among athletes. This is because many students live in the dorms or in other close quarters and athletes often share drinks or drink from a communal spigot. Contraction of meningitis can be prevented by avoiding infection. Dr. Budensiek recommended avoiding sharing drinks with others, especially if they are sick. Avoid kissing those who are sick or infected. Also try not to drink from a communal water bottle or spigot to avoid the spread of bacteria.

There is a vaccine available and widely used for the prevention of bacterial meningitis. This vaccine is actually required by law for students under the age of 22 entering a university. It is recommended that the date of vaccination fall within five years of the start of school and the booster be administered at least 10 days before the start of school. Though there is a small risk of those who are vaccinated contracting the disease, Dr. Budensiek assures that the vaccine reduces the risk of contraction by about 90%.

Early symptoms can include rash, vomiting, neck stiffness, lethargy, nausea, and sensitivity to light. Some of the more specific symptoms include fever of over 102˚F, deliriousness, not acting like one’s usual self, aches, pains and chills. Dr. Bodensiek noted that the presence of two or more of these symptoms that cannot be explained can indicate the presence of meningitis. If diagnosed early on, placement on antibiotics can decrease the risk of fatality dramatically. However, the infection progresses rapidly, so doctors urge those who think they may be infected to seek medical help immediately. The number for the CSM Health Center is 303-273-3381.

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