Health advisory information for the campus community

Due to recent publicity associated with the identification of meningococcal meningitis that was diagnosed in several students at nearby Santa Clara University, Stanford is providing this advisory health information about the disease, a rarer and more severe form of meningitis, and the precautions individuals can take to minimize transmission.

Further detailed information is available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

General information and frequently asked questions

What is meningitis?

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis that can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord. There are a few different types or strains of Neisseria meningitidis. In the United States, types B, C and Y cause the majority of disease.

In the U.S., approximately 800 to 1,500 people are infected with meningococcal meningitis and 120 die from the disease each year. About one of every five survivors lives with permanent disabilities, such as seizures, amputations, kidney disease, deafness, brain damage and psychological problems.


How is bacterial meningitis treated?

Treatment should be started immediately. Most people with meningitis are hospitalized and treated with antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, other treatments may also be necessary.


Is bacterial meningitis contagious?

Bacterial meningitis is contagious, but generally is transmitted through direct exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by close personal contact, such as coughing, sharing drinks, kissing and being in close proximity for an extended period. Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as the common cold or the flu. Additionally, these bacteria are not spread by casual contact or, for example, by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis could include high fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light. Later in the illness, a rash that looks like purple blotches or spots on the arms, legs and torso may appear. Some people may carry the bacteria without getting sick.


How long until symptoms begin to present themselves?

They can develop over several hours or may take a few days. The incubation period can be one to two weeks.


What should I do if I develop flu-like symptoms or think I've been exposed to meningitis?

Students experiencing high fever with or without headache, stiff neck and other symptoms of meningitis should be examined at Vaden Health Center. If Vaden is closed, students should go to their local emergency department. Faculty and staff should notify the Stanford University Occupational Health Center or go to their personal urgent care center. Visitors and those off campus should go to the local emergency department.


How can transmission be prevented?

Do not share anything that comes in contact with the mouth, including:

  • Water bottles
  • Lip balm
  • Toothbrushes
  • Towels
  • Drinking glasses
  • Eating utensils
  • Cosmetics
  • Smoking materials
  • Food or drink from a common source (e.g., punch bowl)

Do not cough into another person's face. Cough into your sleeve or a tissue. Wash or sanitize hands frequently. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.


Should I wear a mask to prevent exposure?

The CDC does not recommend wearing a surgical mask to prevent exposure.


Are there special cleaning precautions for meningitis?

No. The bacteria that cause meningitis do not live long outside the body. There is no evidence that people are at risk of catching the infection by touching surfaces like doorknobs or keyboards.


Isn't there a vaccine for meningitis?

Yes, there are vaccines for meningitis. Two FDA approved 4-strain (MCV4) conjugate vaccines have been available for many years:

  • Menveo® is approved for use in people 2 to 55 years of age.
  • Menactra® is approved for use in people 9 months to 55 years of age.

Many individuals have received these vaccines as teenagers. However, while these vaccines protect against most strains of the bacteria, they do not protect against meningococcal meningitis type B, which is the type found in the individuals at Santa Clara University.


Are there meningococcal B vaccines?

Yes, two meningococcal B vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014 and 2015:

  • Bexsero® is approved for use in people 10 to 23 years of age as a two-dose series.
  • Trumenba® is approved for use in people 10 to 23 years of age as a three-dose series.

Many college students already received a four-strain vaccine as an adolescent. The newer meningococcal B vaccines complement the four-strain vaccine and provide protection against serogroup B disease.

Vaden Health Center is offering expanded immunization clinics to accommodate students who are interested in receiving the meningitis B vaccine starting Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. For details, visit the Vaden website.


Who is at higher risk from meningococcal meningitis?

According to the CDC, infants, adolescents and young adults age 16 to 21, and those over age 65 are at a higher risk of infection. People with complement component deficiency and those whose spleen is damaged or has been removed are also at increased risk. If you have questions or are concerned, please contact your personal physician or the on-campus health centers referenced below.

More information is available on the CDC website.


If alcohol sanitizes, is it safe to share an alcoholic beverage with my friend?

Sharing anything that comes in contact with the mouth – e.g., drinking cups, cans or bottles – can lead to the spread of meningitis. Alcoholic beverages do not contain enough alcohol by volume to prevent the spread of illness.

Campus health centers

Stanford community members who may be experiencing meningitis-like symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately. For further information on campus, contact:

Stanford students – Notify Vaden Health Center:
Robyn Tepper, MD, Medical Director
Clinic phone: (650) 498-2336, press 1
After-hours contact information: (650) 498-2336, press 1
If Vaden Health Center is closed, go to your local emergency department.


Stanford faculty and staff – Notify Stanford University Occupational Health Center:
Rich Wittman, MD, Medical Director
Clinic phone: (650) 725-5308
After-hours contact information: (650) 723-6227