Is a meningitis outbreak coming to a college near you?

This year, eight cases of bacterial meningitis have surfaced at Princeton University and four cases have popped up at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Bacterial meningitis can strike suddenly and result in brain damage, paralysis, hearing loss and amputation of limbs.

From The Washington Post:

“The threat of meningitis has long been a concern on college campuses, where the cramped living quarters, crowded classrooms and teeming party scene create an environment where it can spread more easily. The disease has largely vanished from colleges and universities in recent years, as dozens of states required students to be vaccinated against it before arriving on campus.

“But officials who monitor the disease are troubled by the recent outbreaks in California and New Jersey, in part because of the number of cases but also because they each involve the uncommon “serogroup B” type of bacterial meningitis, for which the country so far has no approved vaccine.”

“This is a very, very serious infection,” said James Turner, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Virginia, who oversees the College Health Surveillance Network, which tracks student health trends. “It’s rare and it’s unpredictable.”

On the positive side, Tom Clark, chief of the meningitis branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the strains are different and the infections are not spread through casual contact.

On the negative side, it is spread though “sustained contact or exchange of saliva, such as kissing,” and gee that never happens on a college campus!

Clark says that typically you will have a few cases in a short period of time but then you won’t have more.  However officials are concerned enough that the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC gave Princeton permission to import and administer a vaccine to students beginning Dec. 9. Students will need two doses. The second will arrive in February.

If the flu isn’t enough to keep students off of each other is the threat of bacterial meningitis? Would students know to get to the health clinic quickly? Also what do you think about the colleges importing and administering a vaccine?

16 comments Add your comment

Atlanta Mom

December 4th, 2013
7:19 am

Back in the 80s before AIDS was really understood, it didn’t stop students from kissing, so the threat of meningitis won’t either. Children are invincible at that age-remember?

Mother of 2

December 4th, 2013
7:29 am

I think it’s a great idea to import the vaccine and offer it to the students. I have read that Princeton is actively educating the students about the illness and is doing a very good job of trying to keep everyone healthy. The students are well aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease. There has been discussion about the possibility of a carrier at the school. The carrier may be spreading the disease without knowing he/she is doing so.

Interestingly, this type of meningitis has not been routine in this country. The schools affected have large populations of foreign students. I imagine that it’s just a matter of time before it spreads, but for right now I am hoping it is manageable.

i LOVE...

December 4th, 2013
7:53 am

well, atlanta mom, good thing AIDS isn’t spread through kissing.

what kind of hair brained comment is that?!

Techmom

December 4th, 2013
8:47 am

@Mother of 2 – I was curious if it originated in Europe since they have the vaccine and we don’t. I can’t figure out why it’s taking them so long to get it though. By now either more students would have it or they’re all about to leave for winter break.

My son has had the regular meningitis vaccine but I worry more about the flu, a car wreck or even him just not studying more than an odd strain of meningitis!

catlady

December 4th, 2013
8:56 am

I was thinking this is one of the vaccines strongly recommended for kids going to college. If so, why don’t we have plenty of it. My younger daughter was vaccinated. It seemed like a good deal to me.

One of my aunts, when she was nine, sustained a compound fracture of the arm. There was no tetanus vaccine back then. The country doctor didn’t clean it up much–just set the bones. A week or so later, she awoke and could not open her mouth. My mom watched her sister die, slowly, of lockjaw.

For that reason, I was always very gung-ho on vaccinations, and I have little patience with scare tactics now used by the anti-vaccination crowd. Give your kid a chance!

it'skinderGARTEN dammit

December 4th, 2013
9:06 am

@ iLOVE… Atlanta Mom’s comment presupposes that you are old enough to remember that in the 80s a lot of people were initially afraid that AIDS could be transmitted by kissing. We learned later that the risk from kissing is almost nil. Her point was, even in the hysteria of those uninformed days, people were still kissing, so a meningitis scare isn’t going to curb the kissing either.

catlady

December 4th, 2013
9:29 am

Good point, kinderGARTEN. I remember my then 6 year old asked me how having a condominium would keep you from getting AIDS. Her heard “condom” and turned it into “condominium!” LOL

Techmom

December 4th, 2013
9:39 am

@catlady – this is a different strain of meningitis that the routine vaccine in the US does not cover.

How heart wrenching about your aunt. I just read this article the other day about a woman who has been in an iron lung for 60 years. She’s encouraging parents not to put off vaccination after an outbreak of Polio in Syria where it was eradicated in 1999.

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/60-years-iron-lung-us-polio-survivor-worries-about-new-2D11641456

i LOVE...

December 4th, 2013
10:08 am

oh. blah! sorry!

i’m a bit too young for the early 80s hysteria… i was a wee baby then. :-)

Ugh

December 4th, 2013
11:15 am

Tom Clark’s proper title is Branch Chief. There is no title of “Chief” at CDC. There are Branch Chiefs and Deputy Branch Chiefs, among many other management titles at CDC.

HB

December 4th, 2013
1:28 pm

“chief of the meningitis branch”

Isn’t “chief of branch” pretty much the same as “branch chief”? I mean I get that may not be the style in-house, but it still seems accurate. I certainly don’t care when outsiders refer to me as my org’s programs manager rather than our in-house preferred style, manager of programs.

Ugh

December 4th, 2013
3:04 pm

No, it’s really not. No one at the CDC (or HHS for that matter) would refer to him that way. They would say he is the Branch Chief of Meningitis. Since most branch chiefs are MDs, or DVMs, usually board certified, with an additional master’s degree in public health, I think they deserve the respect of being referred to by their proper title.

jarvis

December 4th, 2013
3:05 pm

Don’t take the vaccine. I implore you. It will make you autistic.

Kat

December 4th, 2013
3:14 pm

@jarvis: Odd that. My son has autism, but didn’t get this vaccine. Or should I refer to you as the Honorable Jarvis, M.D.? I suppose not.

motherjanegoose

December 4th, 2013
3:35 pm

MIne two had the previous vaccine. Neither has a said a word about it to me. I will see our son tomorrow and see what he might know about the outbreak and/or vaccine.

motherjanegoose

December 4th, 2013
3:37 pm

oops MY two…sorry!