Working on wellness: It might be meningitis

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By: Lisa Belanger, NP, USM Health & Counseling Services

Remember Ken? Last semester, Ken was challenged with a sports-related injury and sleep issues. He has returned for the spring semester feeling fit and rested but is worried about his new roommate, Ethan. Ethan suddenly developed flu-like symptoms with a sore neck and headache, and now it’s bedtime and he is throwing-up and complaining of chills. Should Ken be concerned?

Every year in the U.S., thousands of people get sick with meningitis. Many different organisms can cause this disease, an inflammation of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord, but viruses are the most common cause. Most people who get this viral type of meningitis get better on their own without needing treatment.

However, if meningitis is caused by bacteria, it can progress very rapidly and be life-threatening. It is for this reason that Ken should be concerned.

About one in 10 young adults carry one of the more dangerous types of bacteria that can cause meningitis, usually without symptoms, and may spread it unknowingly to others.

Some of the risk factors associated with bacterial meningitis include:
Travel to parts of the world where the disease is more common.
Having a medical condition that compromises the immune system.
Kissing or sharing eating utensils, drinking glasses, cigarettes or vaping devices with a person who carries the bacteria.
Residing in a communal living arrangement, like residential housing on a college campus.

Symptoms can include:
Fever, headache, stiff neck
Nausea and vomiting
Sensitivity to light
Mental confusion, lethargy
Rash on arms, legs or torso

The best way to protect yourself from bacterial meningitis is through vaccination. There are currently a variety of brands of meningitis vaccine available but they primarily come in two types. One type protects against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W & Y, the other type protects against serogroup B. Most young adults have received the ACWY vaccine as part of their routine immunizations. The type B vaccine didn’t become available until 2014 and is not routinely recommended…unless the person fits an at-risk category, like living in a residence hall.

If you are wondering if you should get vaccinated with either the type ACWY or type B meningitis vaccine, talk with your primary care provider, go to the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis or call USM Health & Counseling Services for more information at 780-5411. If you choose to be vaccinated, we can obtain and administer the shots for you.

So now back to Ken and Ethan. Ken took appropriate action and shared his concern with Ethan and then notified his RA & RD who arranged for Ethan to be transported to the hospital for evaluation. Fortunately, Ethan was diagnosed with the flu, which can also make you very sick but most healthy people recover fully with adequate rest, as Ethan did. The two roommates then made a pact to call Health & Counseling Services to both get vaccinated for Meningitis type B, a smart decision on their part.

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