Daily Princetonian pieces

NEWS: Updated: Seventh Princeton-associated case of meningitis this year treated at local hospital

Originally published Monday, Nov. 12 in The Daily Princetonian.

A male student was diagnosed with meningitis Sunday morning in the seventh case of the disease associated with the University since March.

The student sought treatment at University Health Services Saturday for symptoms of acute illness, according to a health advisory email sent to all undergraduate students Sunday evening. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

The University is working with local, regional and state health authorities along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify ways to limit the spread of the disease, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said.

Health officials are currently working to identify the strain of bacteria responsible for the student’s illness and individuals who may have come into close contact with him, Mbugua said. In each previous case, individuals who had come into close contact with the sick individual were identified and given preventive treatment, including antibiotics.

The strain of bacteria responsible for all six previous cases was identified as N. meningitidis serotype B. State law requires all college students living in dorms to receive a licensed meningococcal vaccine, which protects against many strains of the bacteria but does not protect against serogroup B.

The bacteria responsible for the disease is contagious and can be spread through close contact between human beings, such as coughing, sneezing and sharing utensils. It is estimated that five to 25 percent of the general population carries the bacteria without developing symptoms of illness, the most recent health advisory said.

The first and second University-associated cases this year, reported on March 25 and April 12, involved a female student and a male visitor to campus, respectively. In total, 10 people who were considered to have been in close contact with the affected individuals were given prophylactic treatment by UHS.

The third and fourth cases, reported May 7 and May 20, both involved male students. In the third case, nineteen individuals were identified as close contacts and given prophylactic treatment. In the fourth case, which occurred near the end of the University’s spring examinations period, the student developed symptoms while traveling from campus to his home state, where he was hospitalized.

The New Jersey Department of Health designated the cases as an outbreak after the fourth case.

The fifth case involved a male University student hospitalized abroad on June 30 after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis during an academic trip. Fourteen other students who were on the trip received prophylactic treatment.

The sixth case involved a female University student treated at a local hospital for meningococcal disease on Oct. 2. She reported to University Health Services with a high fever and was referred to the hospital for treatment. In her case, the bacteria did not infect her brain and spinal cord but instead resided in her bloodstream, according to an email sent to residential college advisers by Dr. Peter Johnsen, director of medical services at UHS, and obtained by The Daily Princetonian.

All six individuals have since recovered, according to the latest health advisory.

With each case in the outbreak, the University has issued health advisory emails reminding students to pay increased attention to personal hygiene practices. The health advisories urge all students who experience symptoms of bacterial meningitis, including a high fever, headache or stiff neck, to report to UHS.

The most recent health advisory recommends that any student with a high fever should report to UHS. It reminds students that they may become ill with meningitis even if they have not been in contact with someone who is sick, since most cases of meningitis occur through exposure to an asymptomatic carrier. Students are also reminded to prevent the spread of disease by increasing hygienic practices and not sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, smoking materials and other items.

The University has also posted reminders with information on meningococcal disease in bathrooms and dining halls, in addition to providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer and tissues at all event headquarters and meal sites. Alumni and visitors returning to campus for reunions weekend in May received hygiene reminders in their welcome materials.

In order to combat the spread of the disease on campus, the Student Health Advisory Board distributed reusable drinking cups to the student body at the start of the semester in September. The red cups said “Mine. Not Yours.” and were intended to remind students not to share cups with other students.

“Right now, with meningitis on campus, the best way to stay safe is to only drink from your own cup,” Kathy Wagner, senior health educator for UHS, told The Daily Princetonian in September.

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