Meningococcal disease awareness and prevention
Dear UIC students,
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis that leads to an infection of the brain and spinal cord or the bloodstream. This disease is often severe, and though rare, can rapidly become fatal.
While this disease is not common among adults, college-aged students are at a heightened risk for disease because of certain everyday behaviors and because they often live in close quarters to one another, such as in residence halls. Residence halls can be the site of outbreaks of meningococcal disease. Between 2013 and 2019, the National Meningitis Association reported outbreaks of the disease at over 50 campuses across the country.
How is meningococcal disease spread?
Meningococcal disease is not as easily transmitted as COVID-19 or the flu, but it is similarly spread through direct contact with a sick person’s saliva or spit. The disease can be transmitted through:
- An infected person sneezing or coughing on others.
- Sharing eating utensils, food, smoking paraphernalia, cups, straws, toothbrushes, lipsticks, etc.
Roommates and household members are often at greatest risk of getting sick because of either close or prolonged contact with an infected person.
How do I know if I have the disease?
Someone with an infection of the brain or spinal cord (meningococcal meningitis) will most often have a fever, headache and a stiff neck, though symptoms can also include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion. If someone has a bloodstream infection (septicemia), their symptoms may include fever, chills, fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, severe muscle and body aches, rapid breathing, diarrhea, and most severely, a dark purple rash.
Individuals who suspect meningitis infection should seek medical care immediately. It is important to receive a diagnosis quickly so you can start antibiotic treatments as soon as possible. Even so, up to 20% of survivors will have long-term effects such as loss of limb(s), hearing loss, nervous system problems or brain damage.
How can I protect myself from getting the disease?
To prevent infection, students should maintain healthy habits, practice good hygiene (e.g., covering coughs and sneezes), avoid close contact with anyone who has meningococcal disease, and avoid sharing items that might come into contact with someone’s spit or saliva. The best way to protect yourself, and others, is to stay up to date on your meningococcal vaccinations.
There are two vaccines that are offered in the U.S. that can help protect individuals from three of the most common types of Neisseria meningitidis. College freshmen should get vaccinated before entering college, or after starting college if they weren’t previously vaccinated. As with other vaccines, there’s still a chance of getting sick even after vaccination. According to the CDC, data on how well the vaccines work is limited mainly because the disease is so rare and measuring effectiveness would require many people to receive the vaccine. However, manufacturers of the vaccine have demonstrated that the vaccine produces an immune response that suggests a likely protective benefit from the vaccine.
Where can I get vaccinated? How much does it cost?
Your primary care provider can best help you make sure you have received your meningococcal vaccinations and recommend appropriate boosters in accordance with the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Your doctor also can help answer any questions you might have about the meningococcal vaccines. However, these vaccines are also commonly available at community health clinics, public health departments, pharmacies and even workplaces.
UIC students can receive a meningitis vaccine at Student Health Services as part of their regular medical visit or through a nurse visit once the student is established with the Family Medicine Center. The Family Medicine Center is open to all UI students and is located at 722 W. Maxwell St. For more information and hours of operation, visit the Family and Community Medicine website. To make an appointment, students can call 312-996-2901 or message their care team through Epic MyChart; same-day appointments are available.
Most private insurance plans will cover medically necessary vaccines, including meningitis vaccines. You should check with your insurance provider for details about any cost to you. Meningitis vaccines are also covered for students who are enrolled in CampusCare.
Visit the Illinois Department of Public Health website for more information about meningococcal disease and meningococcal conjugate vaccines.
Dr. Mark Potter
Medical Director of Student Health Services, Family and Community Medicine
Dr. Raphael Florestal-Kevelier
Assistant Vice Chancellor, Health and Well-being
For more information, please contact:
UIC Health and Well-being