Important Information You Should Know about Meningococcal Disease or Meningitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that college students, especially first year college students who live in residence halls, are at a slightly increased risk for meningococcal disease compared with other persons of the same age.  Many US states have adopted legislation requiring colleges and universities to provide information on the risks of meningococcal disease to new students and/or students residing on campus. Additionally, many higher education institutions internationally provide information during orientations to make students aware of the symptoms and signs of meningococcal disease or meningitis.

The College of Global Studies at Arcadia University has obtained information from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, to distribute to students traveling for study abroad programs. This memorandum summarizes the information we have to date on this topic. Although you may have already received the information we include below from your home campus in the U.S, we want you to have it now so that you can think about it before you go.

The following paragraphs, taken from a letter to new students by one of our British university affiliates, will give you a sense of information being distributed by our overseas partners:

"Meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia are infectious diseases which can cause serious illness in young adults and, in exceptional cases, can prove fatal. They occur most commonly in early childhood, and a majority of students will have been exposed to meningococci and are already immune. Some will not have previously been exposed, and joining a large group of students, and particularly living in a hall of residence, may bring them into contact with the disease for the first time. This can cause a sudden serious infection. It is possible to immunise against two of the three main strains of the disease. You are advised to discuss this with your doctor soon. Immunisation takes 7-10 days to take effect."

"Even those who are immunised, or who have some natural immunity to the disease, are still at risk from infection with a different strain, and you should be aware of this. If you, or one of your friends, have a severe headache, are clearly unwell and drowsy, have a rash, or have suspicious symptoms, you should seek help by phoning a doctor immediately. Alternatively, contact your university's medical center. If necessary, call an ambulance or take the person to the nearest hospital."

Arcadia followed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding this information. The following paragraphs detail their response:

“In the U.S., as you're probably aware, we have also been examining the issue of meningococcal disease in college students. We've found that while overall U.S. college students do not seem to be at higher risk of disease than non-college students in the same age group, first-year students, particularly those who live in dormitories, are at higher risk.

Individuals who choose to be vaccinated would decrease their risk of disease; however, they will not eliminate their risk as the vaccine only protects against some of the strains that cause disease and, although it is very effective, the vaccine does not give 100% protection. CDC does think it important that students, especially first-year students who live in dormitories, and their parents, be informed about the disease and the availability of a safe and effective vaccine."

In late October 1999, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that individuals who provide medical care to first-year college students (particularly those who live in residence halls) provide information about meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination to students and their parents. Arcadia University sends a letter about meningitis vaccine to all its domestic students which included the following information:

"Meningitis is caused by several different subgroups of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. A vaccine in now available that is 85% effective against 4 subgroups that cause approximately 70% of the cases of meningococcal meningitis found among college students. There are a few subgroups of bacteria that it will not protect against. As with any vaccine, vaccination may not protect 100% of all susceptible individuals. Immunity lasts approximately 3-5 years."

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College Health Association recommend that all college health services provide information about meningitis and the benefits of vaccination to all students."

We encourage students to discuss this information with their physician and with their parents/family. For those who wish to be immunized after arrival at their study abroad program site, their host university will provide information (and, in some cases, inoculations) for all new students early in the academic term.

Additional information may be obtained from your physician; from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their website or at 800-311-3435; or through Meningitis Now.