A case of meningococcal meningitis has been confirmed in a vaccinated Providence College student, the Rhode Island Department of Health reported Monday.  The unnamed student has been admitted to a Boston-area hospital and is improving.

Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström
Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström

Antibiotics have been provided to the student’s close contacts, and the student’s Boston-area contacts are being identified.

Dr. Michael Fine, director of the health department, said: “Meningitis does not spread through the air or through casual exposure, so the risk of contracting this disease is low for Providence College students and staff. Still, meningitis is a dangerous disease. The Department of Health takes even a single case seriously and works hard to prevent any spread.”

The bacterial infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord is spread through kissing, sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils or cigarettes, the health department said. The disease can be treated with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important, the department said.

People at increased risk for meningitis are: • College freshmen living in dormitories. • Laboratory personnel who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria. • U.S. military recruits. • Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common. • Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed. • Anyone who has persistent complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder). • People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.

The Rhode Island Department of Health reports that vaccination is the best protection against meningococcal disease. The vaccine protects against all strains except serogroup B. All 11-12 years olds should be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine. For adolescents who receive the first dose at age 13 through 15 years, a one-time booster dose should be administered, preferably at age 16 through 18 years. Adolescents who receive their first dose of meningococcal vaccine at or after age 16 years do not need a booster dose.

The meningococcal vaccines that are available can prevent four types of meningococcal disease, including two of the three types that are most common in the United States. Approximately 92 percent of Rhode Islanders from 13 to 17 years of age have received at least one dose of meningococcal vaccine.