U-M people cautioned about bacterial meningitis symptoms

March 7, 1997
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—While there have been no cases of meningococcal Ann Arbor campus, University officials are cautioning students, faculty and staff to be aware of symptoms and to call the U-M Health Service immediately if they experience symptoms or think they may have been exposed to infected persons.

An Eastern Michigan University student who was diagnosed with meningococcemia, a systemic infection, died on March 4. The meningococcal bacteria also can cause meningitis.

Two Michigan State University students also have died from meningococcal meningitis since December. The MSU cases involved two separate strains of bacteria, however, and, according to the Washtenaw County Health Department, there is no apparent epidemiological link between the MSU and EMU cases.

Two other MSU students were diagnosed with viral meningitis in February, a milder and generally self-limited form of the disease caused by a virus rather than bacteria. The last case of meningococcal meningitis on the U-M campus was reported in October 1995.

“The current incidence of meningococcal meningitis is quite typical, and there is no cause for particular alarm,” said Dr. Hernan Drobny, a physician with Clinical Services, University Health Service. He added that “meningococcal meningitis is a rare but potentially dangerous illness, however, that progresses rapidly following appearance of the initial symptoms. The risk for contracting the disease is low but it is higher for those who have had direct contact with an infected person. Kissing, sharing a drinking glass or toothbrush, or living in the same household with a carrier for an extended period of time can place a person at risk.”

Those who know they have had direct contact with an infected person can be treated very effectively with prophylactic antibiotics before symptoms appear, and should contact the Health Service or a physician immediately, Drobny emphasized. Meningococcal bacteria are not transmitted by food handlers or through food.

“The University has a public health system in place that includes the U-M Health Service, Employee Health Services at the U-M hospitals, and the Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH),” said Michael G. Hanna, biosafety officer at OSEH. “All these units are in contact and are monitoring the situation in the county.”

Some common early symptoms include fever, severe headache, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash and lethargy.

Some facts:

—Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The condition can be caused by bacteria or viruses.

—Approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of the general population carry the meningococcal bacteria in the nose or throat in a harmless state. The annual occurrence rate of the meningococcal meningitis in the United States is stable at 1 to 3 incidents per 100,000 persons.

—Meningococcal bacteria cannot usually live for more than a few minutes outside the body. They are usually not transmitted in water supplies, swimming pools, or by routine contact in classrooms, dining halls, restrooms, and so on.

For more information or concern about symptoms, call the Nurse Clinic at University Health Service from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 763-4511. From 5-10 p.m., call On-Call services at 662-5674. After 10 p.m., visit the U-M Emergency Department at University Hospital, 936-6666.

Health Service