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Meningitis: Why College Students Are So Vulnerable

Freshman Students

University campuses across the country are seeing an outbreak of meningitis. Health officials most recently confirmed three cases of Meningococcal Disease at University of California, Santa Barbara. This comes after six Princeton University students and one campus visitor were hospitalized with the disease. Another New Jersey student from Monmouth University was also diagnosed with Meningitis in November.


Why an increase in meningitis outbreaks on college campuses?

"When you are in a situation with a whole bunch of people who share items like cups, water bottles, lipstick or engage in unhygienic behavior, it just magnifies the risk," said Sankar Swaminathan, MD, division chief of infectious diseases at University of Utah Health.

Meningococcal disease is bacterial and causes bloodstream infections and meningitis. College students, especially those living in residence halls, are prone to contracting the disease because of their close proximity to each other.

In the face of the meningitis outbreaks, Princeton University will begin offering students a vaccine that not approved in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration gave the green light last week to allow the use of Bexsero, a type B meningitis vaccine. The vaccine is only licensed in Europe and Australia. "Students will remain at high-risk until the disease has run its course. This vaccine will help protect students who have not been exposed," said Swaminathan.

It's easy to mistake the early signs of meningitis for the flu. Both have symptoms that include a high fever, vomiting and nausea. But according to Swaminathan anytime a high fever is accompanied by a severe headache you should see a doctor right away. Other symptoms of meningitis also include confusion, stiff neck, seizures, sleepiness, and sensitivity to light.

To avoid getting the illness, Swaminathan advises such precautions as washing your hands frequently, not sharing utensils, drinks and other items that might be used in close proximity to someone's mouth.