Meningitis: Is Your Camp Educated?

Meningococcal disease, commonly called meningitis, is a serious bacterial infection that can cause death or disability within hours of its first symptoms.  While children don’t get meningitis simply from attending camp, certain factors often associated with camp, such as communal living or sharing of personal items (e.g., water bottles and drinking glasses), may put certain campers at increased risk of infection.

The American Camp Association (ACA) supports the National Meningitis Association (NMA) in developing resources for camps to help educate camp counselors and staff about meningitis and prevention, as well as to help recognize its symptoms to ensure the health and safety of the camp community.

Resources Available from NMA

What is Meningococcal Meningitis?
Meningococcal [Pronounced: MEN-IN-JOE-KOK-UL] meningitis is a bacterial infection that causes swelling of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord, called meningitis, or causes blood poisoning, called meningococcemia [Pronounced: MEN-IN-JOE-KOK-SEE-ME-A].  It is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the U.S. among toddlers, adolescents, and young adults and strikes nearly 3,000 Americans each year.

The disease is spread from person-to-person through air droplets and close contact, such as coughing, kissing and sharing utensils or water bottles. Early symptoms of meningitis are very similar to the flu or a cold, so the disease is difficult to accurately and quickly diagnose. First symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, and confusion. After the disease progresses a purplish rash may appear.

The good news is that the majority of meningitis cases (up to 83%) may potentially be prevented through immunization. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for pre-teens aged 11-12 years to help prevent meningitis. For those not previously vaccinated, health officials recommend receiving the vaccine before entering high school (about age 15) or for college-bound freshmen, if planning to live in dormitories. In addition, New York State requires overnight camps to provide information to prospective campers and their parents about meningococcal meningitis and prevention.