Viruses can also cause meningitis, in which case bacterial cultures of the cerebrospinal fluid will be negative.
Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of different antibiotics. It is important to treat early in the course of the disease. Close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease are treated with an antibiotic to prevent them from developing the infection.
Still, even with current treatments, 10 to 15 percent of cases of meningococcal disease are fatal. Of patients who do recover, 10 percent have permanent hearing loss or other serious problems.
Meningococcal Disease and Adolescents
According to the CDC, rates of meningococcal disease have increased among adolescents and young adults during the last decade. From July 1994 through July 1997, four outbreaks of meningococcal disease occurred at U.S. colleges.
Actual surveillance for meningococcal disease in U.S. college students started in 1998. Findings from the 1998-1999 school year were:
90 cases of meningococcal disease were reported to the CDC.
97 percent occurred in undergraduate students.
44 percent occurred among the 2.27 million freshman students entering college.
Most of the cases studied were due to serogroups C, B, and Y, with one case due to W-135.
Eight students died.
If you consider just the 590,000 freshmen who lived in dormitories from 1998-1999, their rate of menigococcal disease was 4.6 per 100,000 — higher than any other group in the population (except kids under age 2), but lower than the threshold of 10 per 100,000, at which experts recommend starting a meningococcal vaccination campaign.
Research studies have confirmed that freshman college students living in dormitories are at a modestly increased risk for meningococcal disease.
The Meningococcal Vaccine
The current meningococcal vaccine helps protect against four serogroups of the disease: A, C, Y and W-135. This gives it the name of a quadrivalent vaccine.
Outbreaks of meningococcal disease among military recruits led to development of the vaccine. Immunization with an early form of the vaccine was started in October 1971, and by the fall of 1982, all recruits were receiving a quadrivalent vaccine.
The CDC reports that approximately 180,000 military recruits receive the vaccine annually. It’s no surprise that in the military, rates of meningococcal disease are now low, and large outbreaks no longer occur.
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