Additional Information About Meningitis

Mon, 10/14/2013 - 5:23pm -- IAS

In 2015, isolated bacterial meningitis cases were reported at Yale University and Providence College in Rhode Island.  There was a 9-case outbreak at Princeton University in 2013. 

Columbia Health has been monitoring the situation closely and is communicating with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  None of these outbreaks present a particular risk to the Columbia Community. 

In an effort to keep the campus healthy and safe, we wish to provide the Columbia community with additional information about bacterial meningitis:

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord, collectively known as the meninges. This inflammation may be caused by infectious organisms, such as certain viruses and bacteria, and also by non-infectious agents. Due to the close proximity of the meninges to the brain and spinal cord, meningitis of any cause is always considered very serious, potentially life threatening, and a medical emergency.

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is meningitis caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides, which can also cause a blood infection known as meningococcemia. Neisseria meningitides has been shown to be the infectious agent in common with all nine cases associated with an outbreak at Princeton University.

What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

Early symptoms of meningitis may include fever, body aches, headaches, and feeling very tired or sleepy. Other symptoms that may occur are stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, light sensitivity, and rash.

How do people contract bacterial meningitis?

The two bacteria most commonly associated with meningitis are Neisseria meningitides and Streptococcus pneumonia. The risk of infection is limited to those who have been in direct contact with infected individuals through household or intimate contact. These specific activities have been associated with the spread of these bacteria by:

  • Kissing
  • Sharing eating utensils or food
  • Sharing drinks or cigarettes
  • Uncovered face-to-face sneezing and coughing

It is important to note that casual contact activities, like being in the same classroom or office with a sick person, is generally not associated with the spread of these two bacteria.

Is there a vaccine against this infection?

There are two available vaccines in the United States to prevent bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitides. These vaccines are available to students at Medical Services on the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and Morningside campuses.

These vaccines helped prevent infection caused by specific serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis: A, C, Y, and W-135. They do not prevent infection with serogroup B, which has been shown to be the cause in the majority of Princeton cases.  Currently the CDC has not indicated the B strain vaccine should be administered in a routine fashion; however, we will continue to monitor their guidance.

Any student interested in receiving the A, C, Y, W-135 meningitis vaccine can schedule an appointment at Medical Services:

Phone: (212) 854-7426
Online: in a new window
In-person: Medical Services Information Desk (John Jay Hall, 3rd Floor)

Is there any other important information I should know about?

Men who have sex with men (MSM) should be aware of a recent outbreak of bacterial meningitis in New York City, which began in 2010. Where can I get more information?

The following links provide additional helpful information:

New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Meningitis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 12:30pm
Last updated March 18, 2015