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What you need to know about meningococcal disease 

Young adults are at increased risk of meningococcal disease (meningitis), a serious disease that can lead to lifelong complications and even death. The disease is caused by many different types (serogroups) of bacteria. The routine vaccine, required at OSU, does not protect against one of the most common causes of the disease: serogroup B. Vaccines to protect against serogroup B only became available in the US in 2014 and very few people have received it.

Talk to your healthcare professional at Student Health Services to learn more about meningococcal disease and vaccines available to help prevent it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria can invade the body, leading to severe swelling of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the bloodstream. Three different types of the bacteria (serogroups B, C, and Y) cause the majority of disease in the US. 

Why is it serious?

Even with treatment, approximately one out of every 10 people who get the disease will die and two in 10 will suffer serious and permanent complications including brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and amputation of arms, legs, fingers, or toes. 

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms are often similar to the flu which can cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms usually progress very quickly and may include some combination of:

  • high fever
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • exhaustion
  • purplish rash

Death can happen in as little as 24-48 hours.

Students who experience these symptoms, especially if they are sudden, progressive, or severe, should be examined by a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

How does the disease spread?

Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close or lengthy contact (for example, sharing drinking glasses or kissing).

Although some people who have the bacteria may show no signs and symptoms of the disease, they can still transmit it to others. 

How can meningococcal disease be prevented?

Vaccination is the best protection against this disease. There are two types of vaccines available to help protect against it:

  • Routine vaccination with a vaccine that protects against four major meningococcal serogroups (A, C, W, and Y) is recommended for all adolescents. Many colleges, including OSU, require this vaccination prior to enrollment. 
  • Meningococcal serogroup B vaccination may be recommended by healthcare professionals for anyone age 16-23 years.

Serogroup B is the most common cause of meningococcal disease in US adolescents and young adults. It is also the cause of recent college outbreaks.

You may think you are protected against meningococcal disease because you received the quadrivalent vaccine (ACWY) required at OSU – but, that vaccine does not protect against serogroup B disease. You may request the serogroup B vaccine from your SHS healthcare professional.

Even if you have been vaccinated, there is still a chance you can develop a meningococcal infection. So it’s important to know the symptoms. Early recognition and prompt medical attention are very important.

Where can I get more information?

Visit the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) website or talk to your healthcare provider at Student Health Services.