With college students from all over the country traveling over the Thanksgiving weekend, the CDC has issued a health advisory to doctors to be on “the look out” for meningococcal meningitis and sepsis. As you know, travel is a great way to spread germs, even unknowingly, and many college kids left their campuses and headed home for Thanksgiving. In just a few weeks they will be traveling again for Christmas/winter break.
While there are different types of bacteria that cause meningitis, there has been an outbreak of serotype B meningococcal disease in students at both Princeton University and at The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Unfortunately, the two meningococcal vaccines that adolescents receive do not protect against serotype B disease. The vaccines licensed in the United States protect against meningococcal serotypes A,C,W,Y. (Make sure your students are protected with this vaccine).
Because there have been 8 cases of serotype B meningococcal disease at Princeton and 3 more cases at UCSB, the CDC is concerned that there could be more cases identified in different parts of the country, spread by college students traveling coast to coast.
Meningococcal disease comes on quickly and has symptoms like many other illnesses, including the flu. Meningococcal disease causes headache, fever, body aches, nausea and vomiting and often a rash which is classic for the disease. This disease seems to cluster in adolescents who are constantly in close contact with one another. But, meningococcal disease makes patients even sicker than the flu and other viral infections, and typically begins much more quickly. These patients get sick and look very sick quickly, a matter of hours at times.
So parents, if your child develops a fever, headache, stiff neck and a rash make sure you call your doctor. Doctors, we all need to be aware of the outbreak of meningococcal disease and for patients who appear extremely sick consider the diagnosis.
The best way to prevent disease continues to be good hand washing, and cough hygiene. Make sure your students have been vaccinated for meningococcal disease and the flu as well!