Ohio State campus meningitis update

After the tragic news of the death of an Ohio State University student last week from meningitis (infection around the brain and spinal cord caused by a virus or bacteria), we would like to share some information about this uncommon but dangerous disease. 

Meningitis causes headache, fever and rash.  Bacterial meningitis is the most dangerous form of this infection. Overall in the U.S., there is one case per 100,000 people each year. 

Many OSU students have been vaccinated against meningitis, but the vaccine is not 100% protective against all exposures to this disease.  If you are in close contact with a friend or family member with this disease, you should discuss your level of exposure with a health-care provider, and find out if preventive antibiotics are needed.  If you have symptoms (headache, stiff neck, high fever, rash) you should seek care even if you have had the vaccine. 

Without close contact, the risk of catching this infection from being in class or living in the same dorm is small. Those who are most likely to be affected include:

  • Household contacts, especially young children.
  • Anyone who had direct contact with the student’s oral secretions through kissing or sharing toothbrushes, drinking glasses, cigarettes or eating utensils, or by being coughed or sneezed on.
  • Anyone who frequently sleeps in the same room as the student, and had direct contact with the student during or just before their illness.

Protective antibiotic treatment should be given as soon as possible after an exposure, preferably within the first few days. In those situations, we would recommend that any student who feels they meet the above criteria for exposure report to Student Health Services, their private doctor’s office, or to an emergency room or urgent care center. The usual antibiotic treatment is a single dose of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (500 mg). However, each person would need to be evaluated to determine the best treatment for them, which may include no treatment at all.

General questions about meningitis can be posted here as comments and we will respond, or you can contact Student Health Services at 614-292-4321. 

Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University