An 18-year-old Northern Arizona University student living in Sechrist Hall has been admitted to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center with a confirmed case of bacterial meningitis.

Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain. It can only be spread from person-to-person by direct contact with an infected person’s saliva through kissing or sharing of personal items, such as drinking glasses, utensils, smoking materials and possibly through shared food.

“We are identifying individuals who may have had close contact with the student, and they are receiving treatment with antibiotics as a precautionary measure,” said Beth Applebee, executive director of NAU’s Campus Health Services.

Applebee said close contact refers to individuals who have prolonged contact of more than eight hours and are in close proximity, or who have been directly exposed to the individual’s oral secretions between one week before the onset of symptoms until 24 hours after initiation of antibiotic therapy. Such individuals include household members, roommates and intimate contacts.

Because symptoms may resemble the flu, including high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea and vomiting, meningococcal disease is often difficult to diagnose. Students should remain vigilant, be aware of the symptoms and keep a close eye on anyone who is unwell, Applebee said.  Students who notice these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

The university is continuing to monitor the situation in close liaison with Coconino County Public Health Services District to respond to, treat and prevent the spread of the disease.  “The situation does not pose a risk to the broader campus community,” Applebee said. “Bacterial meningitis is not considered to be highly communicable, but can be transmitted between people who have had very close contact.”

Meningococcal disease strikes about 2,500 Americans each year, with an estimated 100 to 125 meningitis cases occurring on college campuses annually. The last case of meningitis at NAU was in 2007.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that college students, particularly those living in residence halls, be educated about meningococcal disease and the benefits of vaccination.

For information about meningococcal disease, visit the Campus Health Services website or the national Centers for Disease Control website, or call the NAU hotline at (928) 523-0007.

A list of frequently asked questions on meningitis is available online.