Meningitis and Vaccination
On this page:
- Is vaccination recommended?
- Are you less than 18 years old?
- What are meningitis and meningococcal disease?
- How common is meningococcal disease?
- Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency
- Meningococcal disease summary
- How does meningococcal disease occur?
- How can meningococcal disease be prevented?
- What is the University of Michigan doing about meningococcal disease?
- For more information
Vaccination: The UHS Allergy, Immunization and Travel Health Clinic offers the vaccine by appointment only. To make an appointment, visit or call 734-764-8325.
Is vaccination recommended? Yes. Vaccination is recommended for all incoming freshmen living in residence halls. Other college students under 25 years of age may choose to be vaccinated to reduce their risk of disease.
Considerations for vaccination include:
- Meningococcal disease is rare but may have devastating consequences. Rates of infection are highest among college freshman living in residence halls.
- There are currently 3 vaccines on the market, Menactra, Menomune and Menveo. Menactra is believed to offer longer lasting protection. Menomune is known to confer protection for 3-5 years. Either is acceptable. Menveo is new and still being evaluated.
- The vaccines are highly effective but do not protect against meningococcal disease caused by type B bacteria, which accounts for 1/3 of meningitis cases.
- Side effects from the vaccine (which are infrequent and usually mild) may include pain and redness at injection site, headache, malaise, chills and fever.
The manufacturer lists the following contraindications:
- Acute illness, or immunosuppressive drug therapy, may interfere with the vaccine effectiveness.
- The vaccine should not be used in individuals sensitive to thiomerosal or natural latex rubber.
Please note that the vaccine takes 7-10 days to become effective.
Are you less than 18 years old? If so, you need consent from a parent or guardian for meningitis vaccination. For vaccination at UHS, use the UHS Authorization for Consent to Treatment of a Minor.
What are meningitis and meningococcal disease? Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Often, the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are the same. Diagnosis of both viral and bacterial meningitis is confirmed by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). Most cases of meningitis run short and self-limited courses.
Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in persons with normal immune systems. Usually, symptoms last 7-10 days and the person recovers completely. Many different viruses can cause meningitis. About 90% of cases of viral meningitis are caused by members of a group of viruses known as enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. Herpes viruses and the mumps virus can also cause viral meningitis. There is no vaccination or treatment for viral meningitis (except treatment for meningitis caused by the herpes virus).
Bacterial meningitis is of greater concern than viral meningitis, because it is associated with a significant risk of brain damage and death. Meningococcal meningitis, one type of bacterial meningitis, is of particular concern because while uncommon, it does affect college-age students and the disease may progress rapidly if untreated.
How common is meningococcal disease? Meningococcal disease is rare, striking annually about 1 in every 100,000 people in the general population. Rates in adolescents and young adults have increased over the last 10 years. The rate of meningococcal infection for students living in residence halls in the U.S. is about 2 in every 100,000 students. The rate of infection is highest among first year students living in residence halls, with about 5 in every 100,000 freshmen infected.
The University of Michigan reported a case of meningococcal meningitis in November 2005, and prior to that, the most recent case on campus was in October 1995.
Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency: Understanding the characteristic signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease is critical and possibly lifesaving, because meningococcal disease can cause serious illness and rapidly progress to death if untreated.
Meningococcal disease is difficult to detect because it can be mistaken for other conditions. A person may have flu-like symptoms for a few days before experiencing a rapid progression to severe meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is contagious. If you (or someone you know) experience symptoms suggestive of meningococcal disease or think you may have been exposed to an infected person, please call UHS immediately (734-764-8325) during business hours or go to an emergency room. Also see Emergency/After Hours.
|Description:||Includes meningococcal meningitis and meningococcemia, an infection of the blood. More rare and more serious than other kinds of meningitis.|
|Symptoms:||Sudden fever and severe headache can be initial manifestations. Also, stiff neck, mental changes (e.g., malaise, lethargy), and rash that may begin as flat, red eruptions, mainly on the arms and legs and evolve quickly into a rash of small dots that do not change with pressure.|
|Cause:||Meningococcal bacteria, specifically Neisseria meningitidis|
|Transmission:||Through fluids from the mouth or nose via kissing, sharing eating utensils or beverage containers, sharing cigarettes or marijuana and via droplets from coughing and sneezing.|
|Occurrence:||Rarely and sporadically throughout the year. Outbreaks, which are unusual, tend to occur in late winter and early spring.|
|Diagnosis:||Confirmed by lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and by culture of blood samples.|
|Treatment if diagnosed:||Antibiotics|
|Treatment if exposed:||Anyone who suspects possible exposure should consult a physician immediately. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy is frequently recommended after exposure.|
How does meningococcal disease occur? Approximately 10% of the general population carry meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat in a harmless state. This carrier state may last for days or months before spontaneously disappearing, and it seems to give people who harbor the bacteria in their upper respiratory tracts some protection from developing meningococcal disease.
During meningococcal disease outbreaks, close to 95% of people may carry the bacteria, yet less than 1% of people develop meningococcal disease. This low occurrence of disease following exposure suggests that a person's own immune system, in addition to bacterial factors, plays a key role in allowing the disease to develop.
Meningococcal bacteria cannot usually live for more than a few minutes outside the body. As a result, they are not easily transmitted in water supplies, swimming pools, or by routine contact with an infected person in a classroom, dining room, bar, rest room, etc.
- Get vaccinated
- Avoid droplets from sneezing and coughing
- Avoid kissing
- Do not share eating utensils or drink from the same beverage container
- Do not smoke, but if you do smoke, do not share cigarettes or marijuana
- Wash hands well and often
There is some evidence that behaviors such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition and drinking alcohol may increase the risk of contracting this disease.
What is the University of Michigan doing about meningococcal disease? The vaccine for meningococcal meningitis is available. See Vaccination on this page.
UHS, in collaboration with the UM Health System Department of Infectious Diseases and other community resources, monitors the campus community for cases of meningococcal disease.
If a case of meningococcal disease were to be identified at UM, UHS would attempt to identify anyone who had close exposure and provide advice and prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection.
- UHS offers medical advice by phone 24/7. This may save a trip to UHS, the ER or an urgent care facility. See Medical Advice by Phone.
- UHS Allergy, Immunization and Travel Health Clinic 734-764-8325
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information on meningitis
- Immunization Action Coalition Vaccine Information Statements are available in multiple languages