MEDICAL WATCH – MENINGITIS                                                                    11/22/13

Three universities in the United States have reported meningococcal meningitis cases including University of California Santa Barbara.  Three cases have been reported at UCSB since November 11, 2013.  The two other universities reporting meningitis are located in New Jersey and are not related to the cases in Santa Barbara.  Meningococcal meningitis is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis that can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord.  There are different types, or serogroups, of Neisseria meningitides.  Laboratories have confirmed Neisseria meningitidis serogroup (or type) B is responsible for the cases at UCSB and Princeton University.


 Is there a vaccine against this infection?

The meningococcal vaccines licensed in the United States provide protection against four different serogroups (types) of the meningococcal infections (A, C, Y, and W-135).  There is currently no licensed vaccine in the United States that covers serogroup B.  As such students who have been vaccinated against bacterial meningitis may still be vulnerable to infection with serogroup B.

 The University community should be aware of these important points about meningitis:

  • Any student with a high fever should go to Health Services or call (805) 493-3225 during business hours.  For afterhours care, go to an urgent care or emergency room.
  • You may become ill with meningitis even if you have not been in close contact with someone who is sick.  The bacterium that causes meningitis occurs naturally and can survive in the nose and throat in a small number of people without causing symptoms to the carrier, while still being contagious to others.  Most cases of meningitis are acquired through exposure to these asymptomatic carriers.
  • You can help prevent the spread of disease by increasing hygienic practices like not sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils or smoking materials, and being vaccinated.
  • If you opted out of the recommended meningococcal vaccine you could be at higher risk of infection for the types of meningitis bacteria that the vaccine prevents.  This vaccine (Menactra) is available at Health Services. 


Signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include high fever, severe headache or stiff neck.  It is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), altered mental status (confusion).  These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take one to two days.  The average incubation period is less than four days, but it can range between two and 10 days after exposure.  Most people with meningococcal meningitis are hospitalized and treated with antibiotics.

Close contact is exposure to the ill person's respiratory secretions through sharing of eating utensils, cigarettes, kissing, or close face-to-face prolonged contact.  To prevent the spread of all infectious disease, frequent hand-washing and avoiding sharing of drinking cups and smoking devices is recommended.

People at high risk of infection include those with decreased immunity, smokers, and those whose spleen is damaged or has been removed.  Get vaccinated!


For more information about meningococcal meningitis, visit:

For more information about the cases in Santa Barbara, visit Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s FAQ: