Last week, Rutgers University in New Jersey was informed by the state health department of a student hospitalized for meningococcal disease. The student is currently receiving treatment and is recovering.
The infection is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria which causes meningococcal disease. The actual bacterial “type” testing is pending.
Meningococcal meningitis causes the most severe form of bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also be found in the bloodstream. This particular type of meningitis is very severe and can result in death if not treated promptly. Even in cases where treatment has been given, the fatality rate is around 15%.
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are sudden, with fever, stiff neck, body aches and headaches. As the disease progresses other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, photophobia and seizures. A petechial rash seen on the trunk and lower extremities, bleeding complications, multi-organ failures and shock are usually final signs. This disease has the ability to kill within hours of getting it.
Up to 10-20% of older children and young adults carry this organism in the mouth and nose, though the carriage rate will vary with age and closeness of population. The majority of people that carry this bacterium have no clinical disease. The organism is spread person to person through respiratory secretions from the nose and mouth (coughing, sneezing and kissing). Experts are unsure why some people advance to meningitis disease while many do not.
Crowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the organism and places like military barracks and college dormitories are well documented areas of concern with this disease.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), local health officials, and Rutgers University continue to work together to identify close contacts, administer prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics to close contacts, and provide recommendations for appropriate public health measures.
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