Invasive Meningococcal Disease Diagnosed in One U.Va. Student

Jan. 25, 2007 -- A 19-year-old undergraduate student was hospitalized on Jan. 22 with invasive meningococcal disease, the bacteria associated with meningitis. Though the student did not have meningitis, there was evidence of a blood stream infection, called septicemia.

The student is expected to recover uneventfully.

People who share households or who have had intimate contact with a patient are at greatest risk of also contracting meningococcal infection. The Thomas Jefferson Health Department investigated this case and determined that three dormitory suite mates and two friends were the only students who were considered at risk of infection.  All have been notified and treated with antibiotics to protect them against possible infection. No other students, staff, or faculty are considered at risk at this time.

College students have a five- to six-fold increased risk of contracting meningococcal disease due to living, learning, and socializing in close conditions.  Meningococcal disease is very serious, carrying a 13 percent mortality rate.  The disease can present in two different ways.

  • One is meningitis, causing fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, and coma.
  • The second is a blood stream infection, or septicemia, causing fever, rash, shock, and rarely infectious arthritis and pneumonia.

In both situations, hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics are required. 

Meningococcal infections are NOT as contagious as more common infections such as mumps, measles, influenza, strep and mono.  Outbreaks of three of more cases rarely occur on college campuses.  Risk of contracting meningococcal infection can be reduced by vaccination, which prevents four of five strains, which account for 75 to 80 percent of infections in college students.

Nearly 91 percent of U.Va. students have been vaccinated against meningococcal disease.

Underlying respiratory infections, such as influenza, strep, and mono, increase the risk of meningococcal disease.  Therefore seasonal flu shots are recommended for all students.  Finally, avoidance of tobacco smoke and sharing drinking glasses, as well as frequent hand washing, all contribute to decreasing risk of disease.

U.Va. students who develop fever, severe headache, rash, or stiff neck should seek medical care immediately. Students with routine questions can call Student Health at 982-3915.


For more information, contact, James C. Turner, MD, Executive Director, Department of Student Health, Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine, at (434) 924-2670 (home 434-979-3395).