If you go to Madison, be sure to get your meningitis shot over winter break, officials say

About 2,000 Minnesota students got the first dose, but still need the second.

If you go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you probably should see a doctor over winter break.

The Minnesota Department of Health is recommending that undergrads get a second dose of the meningococcal B vaccine due to the recent outbreak at the university.

Three UW-Madison students were diagnosed with the B strain of meningitis back in October, according to the university. They were hospitalized, but are now all recovering.

After they were diagnosed, the university provided free meningitis B vaccines, called Bexsero, to 70 percent of undergraduates free of charge, including about 2,000 students from Minnesota, the release says.

Kris Ehresmann of the Minnesota Department of Health says so many students at Madison needed to get vaccinated because the meningococcal B strain isn't included in the meningitis vaccines that are typically given to kids.

But to be fully protected against the disease, you need a second dose of the vaccine within one to two months, the release notes.

UW-Madison officials have encouraged students to get the second dose while they're home on winter break, but be sure to call your doctor ahead of time – many clinics have to order the vaccine. The health department says tell your doctor's office that you need a second dose of the Bexsero vaccine, and bring any documentation about the shot you have to your appointment.

And if you haven't gotten the first dose of the vaccine, university officials are urging that you do because otherwise you're considered part of the outbreak, the release says.

The vaccine should be covered by insurance, but there are also free or low-cost shots available for those who need them. For more information on those, click here.

What is meningitis?

Meningococcal disease is rare, but it's serious.

It's caused by bacteria, and it can lead to bacterial meningitis – an infection of the brain and spinal cord that can also cause blood infections and other issues, the Minnesota Department of Health says. You can get it by being in close contact with an infected person's "oral or nasal secretions" – like by sharing a cup, the University of Wisconsin says.

The disease comes on quickly, and it can be deadly within as little as a few hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. That's why it's important to see a doctor right away if you experience any symptoms, which include a fever, severe headache, confusion, vomiting or a stiff neck, the Mayo Clinic says.

The disease is typically treated with antibiotics, and most people recover from it. However, about one in five cases results in permenent disabilities, like brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities, the Minnesota Department of Health says.

The CDC says being vaccinated against meningitis is the best defense against the disease. On average, about 2,600 people get the disease every year in the United States – one in seven people with the disease (10-14 percent of cases) die, the department of health says.

For more information on meningitis, check out the Minnesota Department of Health's website or the CDC's website. And if you are a student at the UW-Madison, you can find out more information about the outbreak and the university's response here.

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