Questions about Meningitis Outbreak

Image of Fungus

Q: I keep hearing about a big meningitis outbreak that has something to do with getting injections at a doctor’s office.  Is this the same as the meningitis we heard about when coming to campus? Does my vaccination protect me?

A: That is a great question.  “Mening”-“itis” refers to inflammation of the meninges, which is the tissue that forms a protective covering for your brain and the nerves in your spine. 

Meningitis is mostly caused by infections.

  • Viral – caused by several types of viruses, is usually less severe, and resolves without antibiotics.
  • Bacterial – caused by a few bacteria, most notably Neisseria mengitidis, which can cause a rapidly progressive and dangerous infection.
  • Parasitic – caused by parasites growing in contaminated water.
  • Fungal – caused by fungus, usually associated with a suppressed immunity.

There are also non-infectious types of meningitis, caused by cancer cells, chemicals, or trauma.

The one on the news lately is fungal meningitis, which was discovered in a number of people who had recently received spinal injections of a particular type of medicine.  The investigation so far is suggesting that the vials containing the medicine were contaminated. 

Fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person.  In this outbreak, the only people suspected to be at risk are those who received contaminated injections. 

There are two vaccines that protect us from bacterial meningitis.  Those are the HIB vaccine, which is received by small children, and the Meningococcal vaccine, usually received as a teen or just before college. 

Meningitis starts with a fever and headache, but can progress into severe symptoms including confusion or coma, and can be deadly, depending on the cause. 

If you have concerns about meningitis, or are having symptoms that worry you, come see us for assistance.

Good Health!

Roger Miller, MD (OSU Student Health Services)