FAQ Meningococcal Disease
Letter from the Health Services Medical Director
Dear Parent and Student:
I encourage you to make sure that your child is vaccinated against meningococcal disease, including meningitis. This is a potentially serious health hazard facing college students, and particularly first year students living in residence halls.
As the parent of a college student, you should be aware that, although the risk is very low, outbreaks of meningitis and blood infections due to the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis have occurred on college campuses in recent years. Studies from previous college outbreaks suggest that college students are more susceptible because they live and work in close proximity to each other in residence halls and classrooms. Lifestyle appears to be a risk factor as well, with exposure to active and passive smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and bar patronage all increasing the chance that one will contract meningitis from an infected individual.
Meningitis is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss and brain damage. Meningococcemia (blood infection) can lead to kidney and heart failure and also result in severe disability and death.
There is, however, a safe, effective vaccine that can provide protection against four out of five strains of meningococcal disease, which together account for over 62% of meningococcal cases on campus. Because outbreaks are clustered in time, and because onset of symptoms is extremely rapid, it makes sense for students to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease with a vaccination before an outbreak occurs.
It is now a standard recommendation that all 11 to 12 year olds receive the meningococcal vaccine. In addition, a booster dose should be given at age 16. For adolescents who receive the first dose between the age of 13 and 15, a booster between age 16 and 18 is recommended, just before the peak of increased risk. Adolescents who receive their first dose of the vaccine after age 16 do not need a booster dose. We strongly suggest that you review and discuss vaccine status with your health care provider at the time of your college entrance history and physical exam. Ideally, the vaccination or booster would be done before coming to UNH, but we do have the vaccine available at Health Services for $152 (for students who have paid the health fee).
Adverse reactions are mild and infrequent, consisting primarily of redness and swelling at the site of the injection lasting up to two days. Vaccination should be deferred during any acute illness. The vaccine should not be administered to pregnant women or individuals sensitive to any components of the vaccine.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I hope your son or daughter has a safe and healthy experience at UNH.
Gladi V. Porsche, M.D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Students who notice these symptoms in themselves, friends or others should contact UNH Health Services or a 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 (Disease rates decline after infancy, but begin to rise again in early adolescence peaking between the ages of 15 and 20 years)
- Individuals with certain diseases and medications or surgical procedures that may weaken the immune system
- College students, particularly those living in residence halls (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 UNH students consider getting the meningococcal vaccine?
It is now strongly recommended that all children recieve the meningococcal vaccine at age 11 or 12. Because of this, most students coming to UNH will have received the vaccine. A booster vaccine is recommended at age 16. For any students up to the age of 21 who have either not had the initial vaccine or who have not had the booster vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine is recommended before coming to UNH or shortly after arriving. It is particularly important for students with compromised immune systems or those coming from other areas of the world where meningococcal disease is common (e.g., Africa).
What should I know about the meningococcal vaccine?
- 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. As with any vaccine, meningococcal vaccination may not protect 100% of susceptible individuals.
- 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 & how much does it cost?
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. The cost of the vaccine is $152 for students who have paid their health fee, and $166 for students who have not paid the health fee.
For additional information on meningococcal disease and vaccination, call us at (603) 862-2856.