College student has bacterial meningitis, SLO County health officials say

A 19-year-old local college student has been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department announced Saturday night.

Health officials strongly suspect that he could have the form of the disease known as meningococcal meningitis. That form is relatively rare, with up to 3,000 cases nationwide and 125 deaths annually, according to health officials.

The young man was described as “a student at a local college,” but health officials would not disclose which one.

Bacterial meningitis is spread in saliva or other oral secretions, usually by coughing, kissing, and sneezing, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

None of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as diseases such as the common cold or the flu, according to the CDC. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.County health officials said they are trying to identify and treat the student’s close contacts, who will be offered antibiotics.

Signs of meningitis include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck, according to county health officials. People who contract the disease could also suffer nausea, vomiting, have a sensitivity to light and altered mental status, as well as a rash.

San Luis Obispo County averages four cases of bacterial meningitis annually, according to local health officials, but averages below one death per year locally.

People ages 17 to 20 have a higher rate of invasive meningococcal disease — which can be fatal or lead to disabilities — than the general population, and a vaccine is available to prevent infection, according to the Public Health Department.