Neisseria meningitidis is the bacterium responsible for meningococcal disease. This particular bacterium can live unnoticed in individuals (“carrier state”) with no symptoms. Occasionally, the bacteria will invade the bloodstream or other body tissues and cause meningococcemia, meningitis, pneumonia, or pharyngitis (sore throat). Individuals who have had close, intimate contact with a “carrier” or with an individual who has one of these illnesses may become infected with the bacteria also. Even if treated promptly, meningococcal disease may progress rapidly and cause serious medical problems including death.
Overall, college students do not seem to be at higher risk for meningococcal disease, and in fact have lower rates of disease than the general populations of 18 to 24-year-olds. However, freshmen, particularly those who live in residence halls, constitute a group at modestly increased risk of meningococcal disease relative to other persons their age. There are two vaccines against N. meningitidis available in the United States. Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4 or Menomune ®) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and available since 1981. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4 or Menactra™) was licensed in 2005. Both vaccines can help to prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease (serogroup A, C, Y, and W-135). Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of the disease (e.g. serogroup B), but they do help to protect many people who might become sick if they didn’t get the vaccine.
On May 27, 2005, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC (ACIP) recommended that all college freshmen living in residence halls be vaccinated against meningococcal disease using either of the currently available vaccines (the conjugate vaccine is preferred). Other undergraduate students wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease can also choose to be vaccinated. The American College Health Association concurs with these recommendations.
NC Session Law 2003-194, HB 825 requires that any private or public institution that offers postsecondary degrees “provide meningococcal disease information to students if the institution has a residential campus.”
A Wake Forest student who decides to get the vaccine should get it from their family physician or local health department. The WFU Student Health Service has the vaccine available, and it is available at the Forsyth County Health Department.
For more information on Meningococcal Disease, please follow this link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).