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Campus Health: meningitis

Meningities germ
Claire Bohning | The Broadside

Nathaniel Kelly
The Broadside

Severe headaches, stiff neck, rash, coma, deafness, blindness, neurological problems, amputations and in severe cases, death. These are the effects of the ravaging disease bacterial meningitis.

In Central Oregon, two cases emerged during Winter 2010 and two more in 2011; one resulting in the death of an infant.

The disease is generally considered more severe than viral meningitis, a type caused by a virus instead of a bacterium.

“Bacterial meningitis can progress very rapidly and change a healthy individual to death in less than 24 hours if left untreated,” wrote nursing instructor Patricia Cagney in an email.

The disease is an inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides.

“This bacterium releases a toxin into the bloodstream that breaks down blood vessels, causing a characteristic rash called a petechial rash,” wrote Cagney. “The damaged small red blood vessels under the skin leave red or brown spots.”

Neisseria meningitis lives in the noses and throats of five to 10 percent of the population, but rarely causes disease. Serious invasive disease occurs when the bacteria spreads through the body via the bloodstream after penetrating the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, according to the Deschutes County Health Department website.

The first symptoms are similar to those of the flu, including severe headaches, a stiff neck and fevers. One feature that is different from the flu however, is a rash occurring over the whole body.

The cause of this disease is household crowding, chronic illnesses and both active and passive smoking.

It can occur among college freshmen residing in residence halls, living in close quarters where the transmission rate of this disease occurs at a faster rate.

Each year, bacterial meningitis affects 1,000 to 2,600 people in the United States. Even when patients are treated with antibiotics, 10 to 15 percent die. Of those who survive, 11 to 19 percent lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous system, become mentally retarded or  suffer from seizures or strokes, according to the Deschutes County Health Department website.

The serogroups, which are forms of meningitis, wrote Nursing Instructor Kiri Simning in an email, include the variations A, B, C, Y and the W135 strain.

Serogroup B is the most common cause of meningitis in Oregon, accounting for 60 percent of all cases, according to the Deschutes County Health Department.

“There is no vaccine available for serogroup B,” said Simning.

Though there isn’t a vaccination for meningitis B, there are vaccinations for the other four strains.

Many colleges in the United States are now requiring incoming students to receive the meningitis immunization.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, Oregon does not have any requirements relating to the required vaccination. The website also states, 11 states introduced legislation relating to meningitis, during the 2007 and 2008 legislature. 37 states now have one or more laws related to the meningococcal vaccination.

Although there isn’t any requirement for getting immunized against meningitis, students can still protect their health and the well-being of others by getting the meningitis vaccination to prevent an outbreak from occurring on COCC’s campus.

Nathaniel Kelly can be reached atnkelly@cocc.edu

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