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Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. The disease is expressed as either meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood.
What causes it?
Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a leading cause of meningitis and blood poisoning in teenagers and young adults in the United States.
How many people contract bacterial meningitis each year? How many people die as a result?
It strikes about 3,000 Americans each year and is responsible for approximately 300 deaths annually. It's estimated that 100 to 125 cases of the disease occur annually on college campuses.
How is it spread?
Many people in a population can be carriers and usually nothing happens other than acquiring natural antibodies. Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted through the air via droplets of respiratory secretions and by direct contact with an infected person. Direct contact is defined as oral contact with shared items, such as cigarettes or drinking glasses, or through intimate contact such as kissing.
What are the symptoms?
Early symptoms include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting and lethargy, and may resemble the flu. Because the disease progresses rapidly, often in as little as 12 hours, prompt diagnosis and treatment are important to assuring recovery.
Who is at risk?
Recent evidence indicates that college students residing on campus in dormitories or residence halls appear to be at higher risk than college students overall. Further research recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows freshmen living in dormitories have a sixfold increased risk for meningococcal meningitis than college students overall.
Is this considered an "outbreak?"
An outbreak is considered to have occurred when 10 cases of the same type have occurred in 100,000 people with at least three occurring within three months.
Source: University of South Florida and Hillsborough County health officials.