Dorm Safety: What You Need to Know About Bacterial Meningitis

bacterial meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is probably the last thing on your mind as you help your child prepare for college. Buying books and stocking up on necessities may top your list, but it’s a good idea to make sure your student is up-to-date on their meningitis vaccine. Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect both you, and your child, from this dangerous disease.

How Bacterial Meningitis Spreads

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention people living in close quarters are more likely to spread this illness to one another. In general it is common among roommates, people in the same household or those in direct contact with oral secretions, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend.

You may have heard about the higher risk of meningococcal (or bacterial) meningitis, for new college students. In fact, the risk is so serious many colleges and universities require proof of a vaccine for any new students moving into campus housing.

This includes the University of Nevada, Reno. To clarify, all incoming freshman under the age of 23 must show proof of their up-to-date meningitis shot. That’s because this a dangerous (and potentially deadly) disease 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, MDRenown pediatrician.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Back pain
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Leg pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Rash on the torso or lower extremities.
    To clarify, it’s important to know many of these symptoms for both bacterial and viral meningitis are the same. However the viral type is more common,  often clearing up in seven to 10 days without complications. Nonetheless, you should go to the emergency room to be looked at, as the signs are similar for both illnesses.

Why is Bacterial Meningitis Dangerous?

Specifically, this illness moves quickly. In some cases, it can seem like the flu or severe strep throat and take a few days to develop. Or, it can hit in just hours. “Bacterial meningitis has an overall death rate of 10 to 15 percent despite treatment with antibiotics,” Dr. Slots warns.

Another key point is problems after recovery can also be severe. Frequently these include brain damage, amputations, infections around the heart, seizures and shock.

Get Vaccinated

Currently two different meningitis vaccines exist. “The first 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 covers meningitis serogroup B, which accounts for 30 percent of adolescent bacterialimp cases in the U.S. and has been involved in many of the recent college outbreaks,” explains Dr. Slots.

This vaccine is either a two or three-shot series and is approved for those from 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 adds.

Related: The Importance of Immunizations

How to Lower Your 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 this disease 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

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