Can You Tell Me More About the Outbreaks of Meningitis on College Campuses?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the meningococcus bacteria, the most common cause of meningitis outbreaks on college campuses, and why college students are more susceptible to becoming infected.


Can you tell me more about the outbreaks of meningitis on college campuses?

Paul Offit, MD:  Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I think one of the most harrowing experiences, actually, that a parent can have is when they send their child to college, that they find out that there’s been an outbreak of a particular infectious disease at that college.

Probably the most common cause is a bacteria called meningococcus. This is the bacteria actually that about 10 to 12% of the population carries on the back of their throat, harmlessly. But what happens when children go to college is they’re coming into a very, generally small area, through the dorm where they’re much more close to each other. They’re sharing foods, they’re sharing drinks. And also they have different types of meningococcus that could be carried on the back of their throat.

So what happens, and this happens also for army recruits that enter barracks and then are sort of sharing their bacteria in a sense, is that outbreaks can occur. And the thing about meningococcus is that you can be fine one minute and then, frankly, overwhelmed by that bacteria and dead four or five hours later.

You know, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says that one way they can monitor just outbreaks of meningococcus is simply to read the newspaper. Because this particular bacterial infection is so dramatic, and so overwhelming, that it can take the life of an otherwise perfectly healthy young adult in just a matter of hours.

So that’s why it is that we ask children, before they enter college, when they’re 17, 18, 19 years of age, to make sure that they get the so-called conjugate meningococcal vaccine, which has trade names like Menactra®, or Menveo®. So that they can best be protected before the go to college.

There are two new vaccines that have recently come out that have the names Trumenba® and Bexsero® that have a different serotype, or serogroup actually, of meningococcus that’s called serogroup B, or type B. And that, I think, will only further increase the degree to which parents have the opportunity to protect their children before they enter these high-risk situations, frankly, or at least higher risk situations, where you can get meningococcus by entering a college campus.

Thank you for your attention.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Apr 23, 2015