Policy, Code of Practice & Guidance notes
Meningitis is an illness where the coverings of the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or other agents. The spread of the disease is normally by close social interaction and is prevalent in the young and the old. Thus, although there is an enhanced risk in higher education establishments cases of meningococcal disease (meningitis) amongst students in are relatively rare, but the effects can be extremely serious or even fatal.
Viral meningitis is rarely serious. Bacterial meningitis is less common, but is a serious illness and needs urgent treatment with antibiotics. The most common of the bacteria that cause meningitis is the meningococcus. These bacteria can also cause blood poisoning (septicaemia), which is the more dangerous form of the disease. The term meningococcal disease refers to both the meningitis and septicaemia forms of the disease caused by the bacteria.
Meningococcal bacteria can be divided into several groups, but nearly all disease is caused by groups A, B, C. Now that ‘MenC’ vaccine is available and administered to students before or at university, disease and outbreaks caused by this strain is now very rare. The rarer Group B bacteria, for which there is currently no effective vaccine, continues to be responsible for the majority of confirmed cases.
It is the purpose of this document to reduce anxiety by explaining the nature of meningococcal disease, the risks of contracting it and the action to be taken by both the local authority public health service and the University and if one or more cases occur. In practice the occurrence of Meningitis rarely follows a clearly defined pathway and thus the actions recommended in this document should be considered as a general guide. Key representatives from the Health Protection Agency and the University will decide, day to day, hour by hour, the most appropriate action to take.