November 13, 2013

PU Student Hospitalized In Meningitis Outbreak, 7th Case Since March

A Princeton University student is receiving treatment at a local hospital after being diagnosed with meningitis. According to University spokesperson Martin A. Mbugua “the student developed symptoms of acute illness Saturday and went to the University’s McCosh Health Center, from where he was taken to a local hospital early Sunday morning.”

Tests are being conducted to determine whether this case, the seventh associated with the University since March, is related to six earlier cases of meningitis and meningococcal disease. The previous cases were caused by the meningococcal bacteria known as type B. All six people have since recovered or are recovering.

State law requires all Princeton students living in dorms to have received the licensed meningitis vaccine, which protects against most strains of the bacteria but not type B.

Mr. Mbugua said the the University “continues to work with local and state health officials, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find ways to limit the spread of disease.” University Health Services and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety are encouraging students and other members of the University community to pay increased attention to personal hygienic practices. “The University will continue to provide reminders and additional information on campus about taking precautions to help limit the spread of disease,” he said.

Similarly, Mayor Liz Lempert said yesterday that Princeton’s Health Officer David Henry has been working with the University, New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), and CDC and that information on precautionary measures would be made available to the public on the municipal website (www.princetonnj.gov).

Meningococcal disease is a severe infection of the blood or the meninges (the covering of the brain and spinal cord). When the infection is in the meninges, it is called meningococcal meningitis. Both of these infections are caused by the germ Neisseria meningitidis. But, according to the CDC, these bacteria are less infectious than the viruses that cause the flu.

Early symptoms may be similar to those of less serious viral illnesses like a common cold and include: fever, headache, body aches, and tiredness. Other symptoms that may occur are: stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light. Most people with the disease are hospitalized and treated with antibiotics.·

Precautions include: always coughing into a sleeve or tissue, washing hands frequently; not sharing drinking glasses, smoking materials, eating utensils, or drinking from a common source.

In an effort to get the word out about the disease, the University distributed some 5,000 red, 16-ounce cups with a message to students not to share their beverages.

According to the state, the cases at the University are being classified as an “outbreak.” The first was a female student who was away from campus for spring recess and developed symptoms on March 22 when returning to the area. Subsequent cases were reported, one in April, two in May, one in June and one in October. All six were caused by the Neisseria meningitidis; five of the six have the identical strain of the bacteria; four involved students living in campus dorms. The sixth had similar strain of bacteria but it could not be determined whether it was an exact match to the strain identified in the other cases. The most recent case is still being investigated; authorities are awaiting the student’s lab results to determine which type of bacteria is responsible for his condition.

It is unclear whether there is a common link among the cases. Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents and college freshmen who live in dormitories are at an increased risk.

Currently, there are no recommendations from the NJDOH or the CDC to cancel any activities or scheduled events on the Princeton University Campus. Nor are there any recommendations for the surrounding community to avoid contact with Princeton or Princeton students.

By classing the cases as an “outbreak,” the CDC and the NJDOH hope to “increase awareness and prompt early case recognition among members of the Princeton community and healthcare providers,” as stated on the health dept. website. The designation does not alter the recommendations for avoiding infection which are similar to those suggested for the flu.

For more information, visit: NJ Department of Health (www.nj.gov/health/cd/documents/meningococcal_faqs.pdf) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html).