Meningitis: Know the Symptoms

College students are at risk of meningitis

WRITTEN BY: Maria Mellor
Meningitis
Image Source: Alex Proimos
Meningitis

It’s back to school time soon and whether you are going for your first year in college, or returning for a new term, you need to make sure you know the symptoms of this deadly disease. Meningitis is very common amongst college students due to their close proximity—especially in residence halls.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord. Bacterial infection is the main cause of meningitis that students need to worry about.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 600-1000 people contract meningococcal disease in the US each year. 10 to 15 percent of those who get the disease die and one in five people who survive are left with permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputation.

Symptoms may include:
- Fever
- Headache
- Stiffness in the neck
- Sensitivity to light
- Confusion
- Unconsciousness
- Rash

The early stages of meningitis can feel similar to the flu, however experts recommend that if you have a bad fever combined with a severe headache you should seek immediate medical advice. If symptoms get worse or someone you know falls unconscious, call 911 or visit the emergency room.

In some cases a rash can also accompany the disease. This rash will not disappear under pressure, so you can take an at-home test to see whether or not it is a sign of meningitis. Press a transparent glass against the red spot—if it does not disappear it could be a sign of meningitis. However, don’t wait for a rash to appear in order to seek medical attention—not everyone gets this symptom.

Meningitis can be avoided with the right vaccination: there are serogroups A, C, W, Y and B, and to be safe it’s good to get protected against all of them. The CDC recommends that anyone under 25 attending college should receive the vaccination—especially those who live in congregate housing such as residence halls and Greek houses.

Meningitis B occurs in 40 percent of adolescents and young adults in the United States yet a vaccine was not introduced until 2014, so make sure you talk to your healthcare provider about getting full coverage.

It is important to avoid sharing eating utensils, make up and cigarettes. Although another person may not have any symptoms, 24 percent of young adults in the United States are carriers of the disease.

Further reading: Are you eye healthy?

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