Viral meningitis is caused by an infection with one of several types of viruses. A group of viruses called enteroviruses cause 90% of viral meningitis cases. It is serious but rarely fatal. The symptons are similar to bacterial meningitis and often present themselves initially as headache, stiff neck, fever and vomitting. Differentiating between viral and bacterial meningitis is important to determine the treatment needed. No specific treatment is available for viral meningitis. Most people recover fully with bed rest, lots of fluids and medication for relief of headache and fever. People who are close contacts of viral meningitis patients do not need to be treated with antibiotics.
A study by the Center for Disease Control has determined that overall, college students are not at higher risk than others for contracting Bacterial Meningitis but that college freshmen living in dormitory settings may have a 3-6 times higher risk of getting this infection than other college students.
The bacteria that causes this infection (Neisseria Meningitis), effecting the lining of the brain and spinal cord, is transmitted through saliva (by sharing glasses, water bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils, cigarettes, lipstick, kissing, etc.)
Hallmark symptoms - severe headache, vomiting, high fever, stiff neck and disorientation - do not always manifest themselves together and can initially present like those of the flu. Any of these symptoms are monitored closely by health care providers on college campuses.
The American College Health Association recommends that students and parents be made aware of the dangers of Meningitis and that college students be vaccinated prior to admission.
The vaccine Menomune is designed to be effective against serogroups A, C, Y and W-135. In addition to not protecting against B-strain, the vaccine may be only 85% effective in those serogroups it protects against and is effective for only 3-5 years. The New Hampshire Bureau of Communicable Disease, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics Do Not recommend blanket immunization for college students nor do they feel it necessary to require vaccination prior to admission to college. However, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has revised its recommendation for use of the meningitis vaccine in college students. The major points of the recommendation are as follows:
Should there be a confirmed report of meningitis on campus, any individual who suspects they may have been exposed (through direct contact with saliva as previously described) should contact their health care provider immediately. Since the vaccine is not 100% effective, this applies to everyone, whether they have been vaccinated or not.
In view of the information available to us in Health Services and in compliance with the beliefs of our Health Services physician (and with the assurance that we all are both educated and acutely aware of the concerns of individuals and the possibilities of this disease), we provide the following advice and assistance:
Should you wish to discuss this issue further, please feel free to call Health Services at 603-358-2450.
Signs and Symptoms
Diagnosis and Treatment
Patients who receive prompt treatment for bacterial meningitis usually recover. Diagnosis is made through a lumbar puncture and examination of the cerebrospinal fluid. Treatment requires large doses of antibiotics.
Vaccination may be valuable in controlling an epidemic. This has achieved limited success as the vaccine is effective against only some of the organisms responsible for bacterial meningitis. It is used mainly in epidemic areas and closed populations where epidemic spread is feared. With the exception of the cost, there is no good reason not to immunize college freshmen living in dormitories or residence halls with the meningitis vaccine.