Meningitis at College

Posted: December 18, 2013

With the recent outbreaks of meningitis on college campuses in New Jersey and California, the Claremont Colleges Student Health Services (SHS) and college administrators have been closely monitoring the situation and following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.

To date, there have been no reported cases of meningitis at The Claremont Colleges. Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the menininges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck

Often other symptoms may develop, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

Later symptoms of bacterial meningitis can be very severe (e.g., seizures, coma). For this reason, anyone who thinks they may be getting the flu or have meningitis should seek care at SHS or visit a doctor as soon as possible. Contact SHS immediately at (909) 621-8222 or, if it is after hours, contact Campus Safety at 909-607-2000, and you will be connected to the medical provider on call or an On-Call Dean.

Also, if you feel like you may be getting the flu or may have meningitis, do not attend class. Refer to the syllabi for instructions on managing your finals and consulting with faculty.  If you have questions about academic accommodations, contact the Dean of Students Office.

If you are an employee and believe you might have meningitis or the flu, do not come to work. Please refer to the Staff Handbook for guidelines on absences.

Treatment

Bacterial meningitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics, though it is important that treatment be started as soon as possible. Appropriate antibiotic treatment of the most common types of bacterial meningitis can reduce the risk of serious complications from meningitis to below 15%, although the risk remains higher among young infants and the elderly.

Prevention

According to the CDC, the most effective way to prevent meningitis is to get the meningococcal vaccine, which is available at Student Health Services. The vaccine protects against the four most common strains of the bacteria, but does not protect against all types. It does not, for example, protect against the strain at Princeton.

The CDC reports that Meningococcus bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like siliva (e.g., living in close quarters, kissing). Although it can be very serious, meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics that prevent severe illness and reduce the spread of infection from person to person.  Maintaining healthy habits, like getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can also help.

The CDC created a video about meningococcal disease and how to prevent it. You can download the video or podcast at CDC-TV or access it on your mobile phone.

Please contact Student Health Services at (909) 621-8222 for any questions or concerns, or contact your healthcare provider when school is not in session. For more information, please check the Student Health Services website.

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