University Health Service

How to get immunized: 

Immunization is an effective means to prevent meningitis, and UHS offers immunization. See Immunizations for details.

On this page:

How to get immunized: 

Immunization is an effective means to prevent meningitis, and UHS offers immunization. See Immunizations for details.

Two types of meningitis vaccine:

Two categories of meningitis vaccine are available at UHS, quadrivalent vaccine and meningitis B vaccine.

Quadrivalent vaccine is routinely recommended for our incoming first-year students, especially for those living in residence halls:

  • Protects against four strains (A, C, W, and Y), which cause 2/3 of meningitis cases
  • Brand names are Menactra, Menomune and Menveo
  • Recommended for adolescents 11-18 years old and certain others; first-year college students living in residence halls are at increased risk of disease
  • For more information including side effects and contraindications, see CDC Vaccine Information Statement

Meningitis B vaccine expands protection against this serious but rare infection. 

The CDC currently recommends:

  • People ages 16 -23 years old are eligible to receive this vaccine, and ages 16 -18 years are the preferred ages for vaccination.

  • People 10 years or older who are at increased risk are recommended to receive the vaccine, including:

    • People at risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak
    • Anyone whose spleen is damaged or has been removed
    • Anyone with a rare immune system condition called “persistent complement component deficiency”
    • Anyone taking a drug called eculizumab (also called Soliris®)
    • Microbiologists who routinely work with isolates of N. meningitidis

The vaccine:

  • Protects against strain B, which causes 1/3 of meningitis cases
  • Brand names are Bexsero and Trumenba, which are both offered at UHS.
  • Is relatively expensive, so be sure to check whether it is covered by your health insurance.

For more information including side effects and contraindications, see CDC Vaccine Information Statement

What are meningitis and meningococcal disease?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Often, the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are the same. Diagnosis of both viral and bacterial meningitis is confirmed by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

Viral meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in persons with normal immune systems. Usually, symptoms last 7-10 days and the person recovers completely. Many different viruses can cause meningitis. About 90% of cases of viral meningitis are caused by members of a group of viruses known as enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. Herpes viruses and the mumps virus can also cause viral meningitis. There is no vaccination or treatment for viral meningitis (except treatment for meningitis caused by the herpes virus).

Bacterial meningitis is of greater concern than viral meningitis, because it is associated with a significant risk of brain damage and death. Meningococcal meningitis, one type of bacterial meningitis, is of particular concern because while uncommon, it does affect college-age students and the disease may progress rapidly if untreated.

How common is meningococcal disease? 

Meningococcal disease is rare, striking annually about 1 in every 100,000 people in the general population. Rates in adolescents and young adults have increased over the last 10 years. The rate of meningococcal infection for students living in residence halls in the U.S. is about 2 in every 100,000 students. The rate of infection is highest among first year students living in residence halls, with about 5 in every 100,000 freshmen infected.

U-M reported a case of meningococcal meningitis in December 2014, November 2005 and in October 1995.

Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency: 

Understanding the characteristic signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease is critical and possibly lifesaving, because meningococcal disease can cause serious illness and rapidly progress to death if untreated.

Meningococcal disease is difficult to detect because it can be mistaken for other conditions. A person may have flu-like symptoms for a few days before experiencing a rapid progression to severe meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease is contagious. If you (or someone you know) experience symptoms, or you may have been exposed, call UHS immediately, day or night, at 734-764-8320 and request urgent Nurse Advice, or go to an emergency room. Also see Emergency/After Hours

Meningococcal disease summary:

Description: Includes meningococcal meningitis and meningococcemia, an infection of the blood. More rare and more serious than other kinds of meningitis.

Symptoms: Sudden fever and severe headache can be initial manifestations. Also, stiff neck, mental changes (e.g., malaise, lethargy), and rash that may begin as flat, red eruptions, mainly on the arms and legs and evolve quickly into a rash of small dots that do not change with pressure.

Cause: Meningococcal bacteria, specifically Neisseria meningitidis

Transmission: Through fluids from the mouth or nose via kissing, sharing eating utensils or beverage containers, sharing cigarettes or cannabis and via droplets from coughing and sneezing.

Occurrence: Rarely and sporadically throughout the year. Outbreaks, which are unusual, tend to occur in late winter and early spring.

Diagnosis: Confirmed by lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and by culture of blood samples.

Treatment if diagnosed: Antibiotics

Treatment if exposed: Anyone who suspects possible exposure should consult a physician immediately. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy is frequently recommended after exposure.

How does meningococcal disease occur? 

Approximately 10% of the general population carry meningococcal bacteria in the nose and throat in a harmless state. This carrier state may last for days or months before spontaneously disappearing, and it seems to give people who harbor the bacteria in their upper respiratory tracts some protection from developing meningococcal disease.

During meningococcal disease outbreaks, close to 95% of people may carry the bacteria, yet less than 1% of people develop meningococcal disease. This low occurrence of disease following exposure suggests that a person's own immune system, in addition to bacterial factors, plays a key role in allowing the disease to develop.

Meningococcal bacteria cannot usually live for more than a few minutes outside the body. As a result, they are not easily transmitted in water supplies, swimming pools, or by routine contact with an infected person in a classroom, dining room, bar, rest room, etc.

How can meningococcal disease be prevented?

You can reduce risk for meningococcal disease by avoiding fluids from the nose or mouth, especially:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Avoid droplets from sneezing and coughing
  • Avoid kissing
  • Do not share eating utensils or drink from the same beverage container
  • Do not smoke, but if you do smoke, do not share cigarettes or cannabis
  • Wash hands well and often

There is some evidence that behaviors such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition and drinking alcohol may increase the risk of contracting this disease.

What is U-M doing about meningococcal disease?

The vaccine for meningococcal meningitis is available. See Vaccination on this page.

UHS, in collaboration with the U-M Health System Department of Infectious Diseases and other community resources, monitors the campus community for cases of meningococcal disease.

If a case of meningococcal disease were to be identified at U-M, UHS would attempt to identify anyone who had close exposure and provide advice and prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection.

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  offers information on meningitis

Immunization Action Coalition Vaccine Information Statements  are available in multiple languages