In a follow-up on the meningococcal meningitis case reported in a Smith College student recently, the school reported that confirmatory testing performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B was the causative agent of the meningitis.

 Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC
Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC

This is the same strain that caused an outbreak at University of Massachusetts Amherst late last year; however, no link has been established to date.

The college has administered more than 700 meningitis B vaccines since the CDC declared an outbreak at the University of Massachusetts last fall, including 400 administered at the Smith College Campus Center on March 1.

In order to continue to provide the entire student body with the opportunity for vaccination, Smith will hold a second student vaccination clinic on Tuesday, March 6, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Unlike the March 1 clinic, Tuesday’s will be by appointment only and held at the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness.

Meningitis means inflammation of a membranous covering of the brain and spinal cord.  It may have several causes.  The most serious is the bacterial form, Neisseria meningitidis, because it strikes swiftly and sometimes fatally.

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About 10% of the population are carriers, which means that the bacteria lives in the back of the throat or respiratory tract.  It usually doesn’t bother the carrier.

The bacteria are spread from person to person, through droplets of throat or respiratory tract secretions. Close contact is required:

  • kissing
  • crowded condition
  • frequently eating or sleeping in the same dwelling
  • sharing eating and drinking utensils

Vaccines are available that can help prevent meningococcal disease, which is any type of illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available in the United States:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccines (Menactra® and Menveo®)
  • Serogroup B meningococcal vaccines (Bexsero® and Trumenba®)