Outbreak of meningitis at Princeton University

New Picture (6)Gabrielle Wallace (11 AM Micro) found this alert about a current outbreak at a major US university. Bacterial meningitis outbreaks due to Neisseria meningitidis have historically been very common in the close quarters of college dormitories, however a very effective vaccine has greatly diminished the incidence of this disease. Indeed, proof of vaccination against bacterial meningitis is required for matriculation at York College of Pennsylvania. Here is Gabrielle’s summary of a new twist on an old problem:

Unfortunately at Princeton University in New Jersey, what students may have thought was only the flu, was a rare outbreak of meningitis. Meningitis is often mistaken for the flu because the same symptoms occur: headache, fever, vomiting, rashes, and sensitivity to light. (NJ.com) Along with these symptoms, this type of meningitis also causes swelling of the membranes covering your brain and your spinal cord (USA today). Serogroup B meningitis is so rare that we don’t even have a FDA (Food and Drug Administration) vaccine for it in the United States.  This strain of serogroup B meningitis is usually only seen in Europe or Australia, and luckily they do have a vaccine for it that the U.S may use. (NJ.com)

Last week the FDA allowed the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to obtain “an investigational drug” from outside the country. CDC spokeswoman, Barbara Reynolds, spoke how Bexsero, the investigational drug, will not be widely available throughout the country. She also brought up that she does not remember when, but this was not the first case of serogroup B meningitis that broke out in the U.S. The only problem was, back then they did not have the vaccine available anywhere in the world.  Meg Fisher, a medical director for the Unterberg Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, stated that even though there are different types of this serogroup B strains in different parts of the world, it is still worth a try to use a vaccine from out of the country.

One of the reasons this outbreak is such a big deal is because this is classified as an epidemic. As Fisher stated, “The definition of an epidemic is an increase over the expected number so this definitely constitutes an epidemic. The length of the epidemic is unusual as well.” (NJ.com) The New Jersey Department of Health specified that seven people in all contracted the disease this year. Six of those people were students and one was a campus visitor. All but for one student recovered, the one student still remains hospitalized. (USA Today)

Princeton University has not made any announcements yet but Martin Mbugua, Princeton University’s director of  media relations, stated “We will be discussing it with our trustees this weekend and when we have something to announce we will make an announcement” (NJ.com). The school has told students to start washing their hands, to cover their cough, and to not share drinks. It can also be spread by kissing, sneezing, or being in contact with someone for a long period of time. One really bad thing about meningitis is that it can be spread easily in small conditions, such as a dorm room.

The ironic part of this situation is in September, Princeton University handed out 5,000 red, 16-oz. cups labeled “Mine. Not Yours.” There hope was to get students to stop sharing drinks with each other. Which like I said earlier, is a common way to spread meningitis (NJ.com). Even though this is a rare strain of meningitis it is always possible for an outbreak of any strain of meningitis to occur at anywhere, even our school! So college kids beware, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, and always remember: Mine, Not Yours.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 21, 2013, in Danger danger danger!, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Outbreak of meningitis at Princeton University.

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