April 24th is World Meningitis Day!

Every year on April 24th, organizations worldwide try to increase awareness about meningitis, emphasize the importance of vaccination, and provide support to those who have been affected by this disease.

Why is knowing about meningitis important?

Globally, more than 1.2 million people are affected by various forms of meningitis every year.

  • About 10% of patients die and up to 20% have devastating sequelae such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, and loss of limbs.
  • Some countries (e.g. developing countries or sub-Saharan Africa) have higher incidence of disease, so traveling students need to be aware and consider the meningitis vaccine before travel.

In the United States, 16 to 21 year olds have higher rates of meningococcal disease (this is a form of meningitis caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria).

  • High risk groups include students that live in residence halls and military recruits.
  • While the disease burden in the US is not as high as other countries, outbreaks continue.
  • Colleges and universities are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks given the close proximity of individuals.
  • Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara experienced bacterial meningitis outbreaks recently.  Princeton University’s Student Health Advisory Board developed the following video after they experienced the meningitis outbreak.
  • Another student at Drexel University became infected with the same strain that had caused the outbreak at Princeton University, and passed away.

Locally, in Chapel Hill, a high school student passed away in February from bacterial meningitis. http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/story?section=news/local&id=9438027

What is the best way to decrease your chances of getting meningococcal meningitis?

  • Vaccination with the meningitis vaccine is the best action an individual can take to help prevent this terrible disease.
  • A booster dose is recommended if vaccine was received before 16 years old.
  • While more cases of meningococcal disease occur in the winter months, it can happen to anyone, anytime of the year.

Know the warning signs:  fever, headache, neck stiffness, light sensitivity, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, drowsiness and rash.  Symptoms of meningitis can occur and progress quickly (i.e. within a few hours).  Symptoms usually start within 3-4 days of exposure but can take as long as 14 days.

Please follow up at Campus Health Services or your primary care provider if you would like more information about meningitis or would like the vaccine.

Thevy S. Chai, MD

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