Meningitis health alert: advice for the campus community

March 21, 2017

On Monday, March 20, local health officials confirmed a single case of meningococcal meningitis in a UC Berkeley student, who has been treated and is now recovering well. Campus and University Health Services officials are working closely with City of Berkeley Public Health and the State of California’s Department of Public Health to identify people and locations visited, monitor the case, and directly notify the individuals who were in close contact with the student.

Meningococcal disease is spread only by close contact with the oral or nasal secretions of an infected person, including kissing or sharing items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, or cigarettes.  Meningococcal bacteria cannot live outside the body for more than a few minutes. As a result, the bacteria is noteasily transmitted from an infected person through water, swimming pools, or casual contact in a classroom, dining facility, weight room, training room, or restroom.

We want to alert the campus community to be aware of the symptoms and take any needed action before leaving for Spring Break.

Though the chances of the bacteria being spread are low, people should be aware of potential symptoms and take proactive steps if necessary. Initial symptoms resemble the flu and include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Rash
  • Body aches/joint pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck

Since the disease may progress rapidly, people are urged to seek medical advice immediately if they experience two or more of these symptoms concurrently.  

Students may contact the UHS Advice Nurse at (510) 642-1814 during business hours.  After hours, please call (510) 643-7197 to help assess whether or not you should seek care. However, if symptoms are severe, individuals should seek medical evaluation quickly. Faculty and staff should contact their medical provider.

There are three kinds of meningococcal vaccines available in the US. These vaccines are not used for treatment following an exposure, but they can protect against future infection. The current case is caused by meningococcus group B, which is not covered by the meningitis vaccine required for incoming students.  

UHS will be holding special drop-in hours this Thursday, March 23 from 2:30-4:30pm at the Tang Center for students age 25 and under who are interested in receiving the meningitis B vaccine. Berkeley SHIP does cover the vaccine; students should contact their outside insurance provider for more information regarding coverage/reimbursement since UHS is unable to bill outside insurance. See more about vaccines below.


What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. Cases can be mild if caused by a virus or more severe if caused by bacteria. Meningococcal meningitis is a type of bacterial meningitis that is rare, but can cause serious illness and death. According to CDC data, approximately 1,000-1,200 people get meningococcal disease in the USA each year. College freshmen living in dormitories are one of the groups at higher risk than the general population of a similar age. See CDC meningitis website

How is meningococcal meningitis spread?

Meningococcal disease is spread by close contact with oral or nasal secretions of an infected person, including kissing or sharing items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses or cigarettes. The bacteria cannot live outside the body for more than a few minutes and it is not easily transmitted from an infected person through water, swimming pools, or casual contact in a classroom, dining facility, weight room, training room, or restroom.

Is there a vaccine?

There are two kinds of meningococcal vaccines available in the US. These vaccines are not used for treatment following an exposure, but they can protect against future infection.
  • The following vaccine protects against 4 common types of meningococcal disease (serotypes A,C,W,Y): Meningococcal conjugate vaccine, MCV4 (brand names Menactra®, Menveo®, and MenHibrix®).  Vaccination with one of these vaccines is now part of the standard immunization recommendations for adolescents and is required for incoming students at UC Berkeley.
  • The more recently developed MenB vaccine protects against serogroup B meningococcal disease, and is generally recommended only for special populations and in outbreak situations (brand names (Bexsero® and Trumenba®).  It is licensed only for people 25 years old and younger.

How do I get the vaccine?

Most UC Berkeley students have already been vaccinated to protect against the most common causes of meningococcal disease, but prior vaccination may not have included meningitis B. Both meningococcal vaccines are available at the Tang Center, and are covered by most insurance plans, including SHIP; refer to your insurance benefits for details. UHS will be holding special drop-in hours this Thursday, March 23 from 2:30-4:30pm at the Tang Center for students who are interested. More details will be available on the UHS website soon.

Is there a test that can be done to see if I have been exposed to meningococcal disease?

There is no way to test people without symptoms who might have been exposed to someone with meningococcal disease. If you think you might have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with or has symptoms of meningococcal disease, call or see your healthcare provider immediately. They can work with public health officials to determine if you should receive antibiotics to prevent infection.

How serious is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease can be very serious. About 10-14% of persons with invasive meningococcal disease die. Of those who recover, up to 19% suffer from some serious after-effect, such as permanent hearing loss, limb loss or brain damage.

Symptoms to watch out for:

Though the chances of the bacteria being spread are low, people should be aware of potential symptoms and take proactive steps if necessary. Initial symptoms resemble the flu and include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Rash
  • Body aches/joint pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck

UHS will be holding special drop-in hours this Thursday, March 23 from 2:30-4:30pm at the Tang Center for students age 25 and under who are interested in receiving the meningitis B vaccine.

Information about meningococcal meningitis