Daily Princetonian pieces

NEWS: Latest student with bacterial meningitis hospitalized in home state; cases designated outbreak

Originally posted May 20, 2013 at The Daily Princetonian.

A 20-year-old male student was hospitalized on Monday for symptoms of bacterial meningitis, the New Jersey Department of Health confirmed.

The student traveled to his home state Sunday and was hospitalized there Monday, according to a campus health alert email sent by the University Monday evening. The University also sent out text message alerts about the case through its Princeton Telephone and Email Notification System.

The student’s symptoms developed while on his way from the University to his home state, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

The disease can be spread through close contact such as kissing, coughing, sneezing and sharing cups, bottles or eating utensils. Twenty-two students who were recently in close contact with the male student have been notified and encouraged to seek prophylactic treatment at University Health Services. Most of the close contacts have now received their treatment, according to Mbugua.

This is the fourth case of bacterial meningitis to be linked to the University in the last two months. The first two cases were reported on March 25 and April 12, involving a female student and a male individual who had been visiting campus, respectively. The third case involved another male student who was hospitalized on May 7 with symptoms of the disease.

Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health has now designated the cases as an outbreak. None of the cases are believed to be linked at this time, according to N.J. Department of Health Spokeswoman Dawn Thomas.

Despite the outbreak designation, the University has not been advised by regional and state health officials to alter its response at this time, Mbugua said. In addition to providing campus-wide health advisory emails, the University has posted hygiene reminders with information on meningococcal disease in bathrooms and dining halls.

Mbugua said the University would continue to encourage community members to practice good personal hygiene and to be aware of how the disease is spread. Alumni and visitors who will be on campus for Reunions festivities next week will receive hygiene reminders in their schedules of events. Notices will also be posted in public areas.

“They will receive the messages and see the notices displayed around campus, and together hopefully they will raise awareness,” Mbugua said.

Test results for the most recent case are still pending. The specific strain of bacteria responsible for the previous three cases was identified as Neisseria meningitidis serotype B. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this strain is one of the most common causes of meningitis among adolescents and young children in the U.S.

University students are required to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis in accordance with state law. The required vaccine does not cover the strain responsible for the recent cases.

Four current University students have cited a religious exemption and are not vaccinated, according to Mbugua.

Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord caused by infection with a pathogenic strain of bacteria. Symptoms typically develop three to seven days after exposure and can include stiff neck, sensitivity to light and loud noises, nausea, vomiting and altered mental status, according to the CDC.

Cases of meningitis can be treated with common antibiotics. All three previous cases have made full recoveries, Mbugua said.

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