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Meningococcal disease is a serious, potentially fatal infection that most often causes severe swelling of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or a serious blood infection (meningococcemia). 

Bacterial forms of meningitis can be very dangerous, even fatal. Many (but not all) forms of bacterial meningitis can be prevented by vaccination. Viral meningitis has similar symptoms to bacterial meningitis, but for the most part is neither as deadly nor as debilitating. There is no specific treatment available for viral meningitis, but most patients fully recover over time.

Although meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, it can also be caused by injury, cancer, certain drugs or other microorganisms like fungi and parasites. Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's meningitis page for more information.

Symptoms of Meningococcal disease

Early symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from the flu or an upper respiratory infection, or symptoms may appear suddenly and progress rapidly.

If symptoms occur

Contact your health care provider or go to the emergency room for sudden severe symptoms.

  • Fever and/or shaking chills
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Rash
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
How Meningococcal disease spreads

The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit) during close (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact with an infected person.

Other factors that increase risk: 

  • first-year college students living in residence halls
  • college students age 25 and under living in group settings (such as fraternities and sororities)
  • military recruits
  • those who lack a spleen or have certain immune disorders.
How to reduce the spread of Meningococcal disease
  • Get vaccinated
  • Do not share:
    • drinking containers
    • eating utensils
    • toothbrushes
    • cosmetics
    • smoking devices
  • Do not drink out of a common source such as a punch bowl
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Know that kissing poses a risk
  • Wash and sanitize your hands often
  • Know that smoking increases your risk 
Vaccines available at Student Health

Student Health Services has vaccinations to cover all serotypes (strains) of meningococcus. The mandated meningococcal vaccine required at Oregon State University protects against groups A, C, W and Y. This vaccine does not cover against group B, the strain that has infected three OSU students since fall term 2016.  The MenB vaccine is available at Student Health Services.

Students currently enrolled may come to Student Health Services to receive a vaccine. Students should check with their insurance company to see if the cost will be covered. The charges can also be billed to students’ accounts.

Want more information?

Read these PDFs from the Oregon Health Authority:

See also: or talk to your healthcare provider at Student Health Services.