University Health Services (UHS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are reporting two students were hospitalized with meningococcal disease this week, with one case being identified as serogroup B. Both students are currently recovering.

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

Additional details are not being disclosed out of respect for the medical privacy of the students and their families.

UHS is coordinating with officials from the state and Public Health Madison & Dane County and will continue to monitor the situation. UHS has reached out to individuals who have been in close contact with the patients.

“We are still investigating whether these cases are related. Depending on that determination, a vaccine recommendation from UHS may be forthcoming,” says William Kinsey, MD, director of medical services at UHS. “We are taking this situation seriously and responding based on guidance from public health officials. We will share more information as it is made available.”

Meningococcal meningitis is 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 inthe 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.

Meningococcal disease is typically treated with antibiotics. Most students are immunized against serogroup ACYW but not against serogroup B. Serogroup B vaccine has only recently become available.