STUDENT HEALTH center
North Carolina law requires that educational institutions with residential housing provide information to incoming students and parents about meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness. It can occur as meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or as meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood. Meningococcal disease is dangerous because its initial symptoms often mimic those of influenza or other respiratory infections or migraine headaches. Because of this, it is often misdiagnosed initially. Early symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and extreme fatigue. Meningococcal infections progress quickly. Approximately 10 percent of people affected by meningococcal disease die, in spite of treatment with antibiotics. Another 10 percent suffer from permanent brain damage, deafness, limb amputation, or kidney failure.
The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person by direct contact with someone who is infected or through droplets released into the air through coughing. It can be spread by kissing, sharing a cigarette or drinking glass, eating utensils or anything else that an infected person has touched with his or her mouth.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease but lifestyle factors common among college students seem to be linked to the disease: crowded living conditions such as residence halls, going to bars, smoking, and irregular sleep habits. Fortunately, the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, but freshmen living in residence halls are at slightly increased risk of getting the disease.
Meningococcal ACWY Vaccines: Vaccines are now available to help protect against the serotypes of meningococcal disease that are most commonly seen in the United States. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra or Menveo) is recommended for freshmen living in residence halls or for other students who want to lower their risk of the disease. The CDC recommends that the first vaccine be given at age 11 or 12 with a booster dose at age 16. If the first dose is received at age 16 or later a booster dose is not needed. Meningococcal vaccine should be available from your primary care physician or your local Health Department.
Meningococcal B Vaccines: The CDC and ACIP (American Council of Immunization Practices) are not currently recommending routine use of serogroup B vaccines (Trumemba or Bexsero) in otherwise healthy college students in settings where there is not a current confirmed outbreak of this disease. The vaccines are recommended for persons age 10 years or older who are at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections, including persons without a spleen, persons with a rare immune system illness called “persistent complement component deficiency”, persons taking the medication Soliris (eculizumab) and microbiologists that work with meningococcal isolates.
You can obtain additional information about meningococcal disease and the vaccine by visiting the Meningitis Foundation of American, the National Meningitis Association, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The influenza virus that causes what is commonly referred to as the “flu” (as well as other respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses) can spread rapidly among college students because of the classroom settings and living conditions where there are large numbers of people confined to small areas.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people — such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions — are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene and to get vaccinated each year.
Normal seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses are usually spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The flu can also be spread via contact with objects such as door handles, telephones, keyboards or faucets that have been contaminated with the flu virus. A person then touches their mouth, eyes or nose and the virus starts reproducing in the mucous membranes. Once the flu (or any other viral illness) is seen it is difficult to contain an outbreak within the classroom and dormitory setting as someone with the flu can be contagious for one to two days prior to the onset of illness and for about five days after symptoms begin.
To avoid catching the flu, get vaccinated each year and practice good hand hygiene. To avoid giving the flu to others, stay home when you are sick, cough or sneeze into tissues and discard them properly, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an approved hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
A flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get the flu as each year’s vaccine is based on an estimate of which variant of the virus will be circulating. Even if it does not prevent the flu, the vaccine should at least lessen its severity. Some people may experience side effects like a mild headache or a low-grade fever for a day or two after receiving the shot, but the vaccine cannot give you the flu as it is made from a killed virus. It does take approximately two weeks for you to develop immunity after getting the shot. The well student can decrease his chances of contracting the flu and many other illnesses by also following these guidelines:
- Keep your resistance up by eating a balanced diet and getting adequate sleep and exercise.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Keep a distance of three feet or more from a person who is visibly ill with coughing and sneezing.
- Wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer after handling potentially dirty or contaminated surfaces. Use a paper towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet after hand washing as viruses may live on surfaces for two hours or more.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Flu season in North Carolina is October through May. Throughout the season the N.C. Flu Update from the Division of Public Health provides information on vaccine and weekly updates on the spread of the illness in North Carolina.
For Additional Information
- CDC: CDC fact sheet: Seasonal Influenza
- NC DHHS: Keep Illness From Spreading
- NC DHHS: N.C. Flu Update (flu.ncdhhs.gov) – Vaccine information and weekly updates on the current flu season.
NC DHHS: Influenza Surveillance in N.C. – How seasonal influenza cases are monitored, plus find data on past flu seasons and pandemic preparedness.