Dorm Safety: What You Need to Know About Bacterial Meningitis

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bacterial meningitis

As you help your college student prepare for their upcoming semester — buying books and clothes, and stocking up on snacks and necessities for their new dorm room — make sure they’re up-to-date on what may be required for their health and well-being at college, including the meningitis vaccine.

There are undoubtedly jitters as you send your child off on their own for the first time — freshman year of college and living on their own can be scary for both parents and kids.

From tuition and books to new friends, parties and navigating the campus, there are a lot of new things to think about. And, some health concerns you should both be aware of.

Getting a meningitis vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from this dangerous disease.
Getting a meningitis vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from this dangerous disease.

You may have heard about the higher risk of meningococcal meningitis, also known as bacterial meningitis, for new college students.

In fact, the risk is so high that many colleges and universities — including the University of Nevada, Reno — now require proof of a meningitis vaccine for any new student moving into the dorms.

That’s because this dangerous and potentially deadly disease is one to take seriously.

“Bacterial meningitis is considered a medical emergency and anyone with the signs and symptoms should be evaluated in the emergency room immediately,” says Vanessa Slots, MD, Renown pediatrician.

What Are Bacterial Meningitis Symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Back pain
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Leg pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Red-purple rash on torso or lower extremities

It’s important to know many of these symptoms are the same for both bacterial and viral meningitis; however, viral meningitis is more common and will often resolve on its own in seven to 10 days without complication.

Nonetheless, you should go to the emergency room to be evaluated because the signs are similar for both illnesses.

What makes bacterial meningitis so dangerous is how quickly it can progress. In some cases, it can seem like a flu or severe strep throat and take a few days to develop.

In other cases, it can happen in a matter of hours.

“Bacterial meningitis has an overall mortality rate of 10 to 15 percent despite treatment with antibiotics,” Dr. Slots says.

The complications after recovery can also be severe, including brain damage, amputations, infections around the heart, seizures and shock.

Get Vaccinated

Right now, there are two different meningitis vaccines.

The first vaccine covers four different meningitis serogroups (A, C, Y and W) and is given to 11 and 12 year olds with a booster around 16 years of age.

“The second vaccine covers meningitis serogroup B, which accounts for 30 percent of adolescent meningococcal cases in the U.S. and has been implicated in many of the recent college outbreaks,” Dr. Slots says.

This vaccine is either a two or three-shot series and is approved for people 10 to 25 years old.

But this isn’t the only shot you should get to stay protected.

“Making sure your child has had all their childhood immunizations will also help protect them against other causes of meningitis,” Dr. Slots says.

College dorms and other close-quarter living are especially high risk for bacterial meningitis.
College dorms and other close-quarter living are especially high risk for bacterial meningitis.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself

Meningitis can be spread through saliva, which is what makes close-quarter living, such as college dorms and military barracks, especially high risk.

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before meals.
  • Don’t share drinks, straws, utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes.
  • Wipe down countertops and other shared surfaces.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you’ve been in close contact with someone with bacterial meningitis, contact your doctor immediately.

You can find more information on bacterial meningitis at Immunize Nevada. The Immunize Action Coalition also has a breakdown of the rules for colleges and universities within each state. To learn more about immunizations offered at Renown, please visit Renown.org.

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