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A recent death of a Drexel University student is believed to have been caused by meningitis, and Princeton and University of California Santa Barbara have seen upticks in meningitis cases this past year.
What is meningitis? What are the symptoms? How can your college student avoid it?Our Dr. Jerry Zuckerman, MD, Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer for Einstein Healthcare Network and infectious disease expert tells you what you need to know.The recent report of a possible meningitis case in a Drexel University reminds us that college students are at slightly greater risk for meningicoccal meningitis than the general population. Students are at increased risk because of the closed living spaces in dormitories and possible sharing of eating utensils or personal items/toiletries. Despite the infrequency of the infection, it is recommended that college students receive the meningococcal vaccine prior to matriculation. The vaccine affords protection against 4 of the 5 serogroups (types) of meningococcus which can cause meningitis.This past year, two universities (Princeton and University of California Santa Barbara) have reported a small increase in meningitis cases. These small outbreaks were caused by meningococcal serogroup B which the vaccine does not protect against. To help prevent further cases on these campuses, the CDC and FDA approved the use of a specific vaccine to provide protection against serogroup B. This vaccine is currently approved in Europe but not in the U.S.What are the symptoms?Possible early symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting, sensitivity to light or confusion. If your student experiences some or all of these symptoms they should seek immediate medical attention at the school's student health center or nearest emergency room.What can your college student do to protect him/herself from getting ill with meningitis?The simplest and most prudent method is to practice healthy habits. Students should avoid sharing utensils, water bottles or other items contaminated by saliva or respiratory secretions. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake should also be avoided and cigarettes and drinks should not be shared between individuals. And of course, make sure your student has received the meningococcal vaccine which may help prevent them from getting ill.