Meningococcal Disease and Vaccine
Neisseria meningitides 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 population 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. The vaccine against N. menigitidis available in the United States is Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4 or Menactra) licensed in 2005. This vaccine 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.
It is recommended that all college freshmen living in residence halls be vaccinated against meningococcal disease. The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination with quadravalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menactra) at age 11 or 12 years, with a booster dose at age 16 years. For adolescents who receive their first dose at age 13-15 years, a one-time booster dose should be administered after age 16 years. Persons who receive their first dose on or after their sixteenth birthday do not need a booster dose. 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.”
Wake Forest students who desire 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, go to the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html