Meningitis FAQs

Don't Assume You Are Immune

Meningococcal Meningitis is a deadly bacterial infection of the tissue layer surrounding the brain and spinal cord (the meninges).

Signs of Meningitis B

  • Fever
  • Stiff Neck
  • Joint Pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Confusion

Don’t assume you are immune. Check your immunization records. If you haven’t been vaccinated, contact the Health Service for an appointment to get protected as soon as possible.

Get the Meningitis B Vaccine by calling Health Service at 847-491-2204.

Below are questions/answers to many of the common questions about meningitis.

How do you get the infection?

There are 5 main groups of bacteria that can cause the infection that include: A, B, C, W-135 and Y. The bacteria are mainly spread by the transmission of oral secretions such as kissing, sharing beverages and food utensils. Once the bacteria spread, they can travel to the meninges and cause meningitis.

Who is at risk?

Meningitis is not common but 5-10% of the population can carry the bacteria and spread it to others without ever showing symptoms of meningitis. People living in close quarters such as residence halls have an increased risk of contracting meningitis.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include fever (sudden onset), stiff neck with pain upon movement, and headache possibly in combination with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion. Symptoms begin to show approximately 3 to 7 days after infection.

How can I protect myself?

Vaccines are available to prevent meningococcal meningitis.

The primary vaccine will guard against those cases of meningitis caused by strains A, C, W-135 and Y. This (conjugate) vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is required for entrance to most colleges and Universities, including Northwestern.

Northwestern requires one dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine for all students age 21 or younger at the start of classes and the dose must have been administered at age 16 or older. The vaccine is available at the Health Service and covered by most health insurance policies.

A new vaccine released in June 2015 protects against the B strain of bacteria. The B vaccine is not yet recommended by the CDC for widespread use, but certain individuals, such as those with deficient immune systems, should get the vaccine when they arrive on campus if they have not yet already done so. It is also a good idea for most people who live in a residence hall. It is covered by some health insurance policies, including Northwestern’s sponsored plan available from Aetna Student Health. Check with your health insurance provider regarding coverage and make an appointment at the Health Service to discuss this vaccine.

Don’t assume you are immune. Check your immunization records. If you haven’t been vaccinated, contact the Health Service for an appointment to get protected as soon as possible.

What should I do if I think I have meningitis?

Go to the Health Service at 633 Emerson Street on the Evanston Campus during business hours. After business hour hours, call 847.491.8100 for the nurse on-call service.

How is meningitis treated?

Early treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics is crucial since meningitis is potentially fatal. The fatality rate is 10-15% even with appropriate medical care. Without treatment, it is as high as 40%.