Princeton students safe to travel despite meningitis outbreak: CDC

November 26, 2013 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter
Princeton students safe to travel despite meningitis outbreak: CDC
Illnesses in N.J. and California involve strain not covered by currently approved vaccine, agency says.

(HealthDay)—Despite recent outbreaks of bacterial meningitis at Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S. heath officials said Monday that students are safe to travel home for the Thanksgiving break.

At Princeton, there have been seven confirmed cases and one additional case now under study. At UCSB, three cases have been confirmed so far, according to experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There have been no fatalities from these outbreaks, but there have been some very serious cases," CDC medical officer Dr. Amanda Cohn said during an afternoon press conference.

Despite the outbreaks, Cohn said, there is no need for students from these schools or their families to change Thanksgiving plans.

"CDC does not recommend curtailing social interactions or canceling travel plans as a preventative measure," she said. "Instead, we want to remind students from these universities to remain vigilant and watch for symptoms, seek treatment. Also [health care] providers should be aware of the situation."

Both outbreaks of meningococcal disease involve the so-called B strain, for which there is no approved vaccine licensed in the United States. A new vaccine against the B strain of the disease is licensed in Europe and Australia, Cohn said, and the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have agreed to allow its use in Princeton to prevent further spread of the outbreak.

Final steps to permit its use in the United States are ongoing, and it's hoped that vaccinations can begin after Thanksgiving, Cohn said. The company that makes the vaccine hasn't sought its approval in the United States, and is instead looking to have a vaccine approved that covers all strains of meningococcal disease—including the B strain.

Cohn stressed that meningitis isn't a particularly easy disease for people to catch. That's because meningitis bacteria are hard to spread and don't survive long outside the body. "They are spread through the exchange of respiratory secretions," Cohn said. "So, they spread through close contact, such as household contact or 'French' kissing."

The bacteria cannot be spread by simply being in the same room with someone who is infected or handling items they have touched, Cohn added. People who may have been exposed to someone with meningitis are typically given antibiotics to prevent the possibility of developing the disease.

Right now, many American adolescents get shots against the C, Y, A and W strains of the disease. Cohn said that vaccine coverage for these strains is currently very high at both of the affected universities.

Overall, fewer than 1,000 cases of meningitis are seen each year in the United States, she said. "In 2012, about 500 cases were reported," Cohn said. "We do see a couple of outbreaks each year." Most outbreaks occur in schools or organizations.

Since the 1990s, cases have been dropping because of the increased vaccination rate, Cohn said. In those years, there were typically 3,000 cases a year.

Bacterial meningitis can be deadly. About 10 percent to 15 percent of people who get sick die, and about 15 percent of survivors have long-term disabilities. These include the loss of arms or legs, deafness, nervous system problems or brain damage, Cohn said.

Immediate treatment is essential to prevent these consequences, but it is often difficult to diagnose meningitis, because the early symptoms are so similar to flu, she said.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache and stiff neck.

"When we say headache, it's among the worst headache that somebody has had in their life. And with a stiff neck, they really can't move their neck. For example, they can't touch their chin to their chest," Cohn explained. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, exhaustion, confusion and sometimes a rash, she said.

Explore further: Princeton U. to give students meningitis B vaccine (Update 2)

More information: For more on bacterial meningitis, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related Stories

Princeton U. to give students meningitis B vaccine (Update 2)

November 18, 2013
Princeton University officials decided Monday to make available a meningitis vaccine that hasn't been approved in the U.S. to stop the spread of the sometimes deadly disease on campus.

Another meningitis scare emerges, targeting NYC's gay men

October 11, 2012
(HealthDay)—As a nationwide outbreak of steroid-linked meningitis grabs headlines, health officials in New York City say a separate, unrelated outbreak is hitting gay and bisexual men.

CDC: Outbreaks of severe form of conjunctivitis reported

August 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—Between 2006 and 2010, six outbreaks of human adenovirus (HAdV)-associated epidemic keratoconjunctivitis were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a report published ...

CDC researchers spot increase in new 'stomach bug' strain (Update)

January 24, 2013
(HealthDay)—A new norovirus strain caused most of the outbreaks of the contagious intestinal illness in the United States between September and December last year, but it is not known if this strain will lead to an overall ...

Recommended for you

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

September 22, 2017
Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause a variety of illnesses that range from mild nuisances like strep throat to life-threatening conditions including pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome and the flesh-eating disease formally known ...

Ecosystem approach makes urinary tract infection more treatable

September 22, 2017
The biological term 'ecosystem' is not usually associated with urinary tract infections, but this should change according to Wageningen scientists.

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

September 22, 2017
Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily ...

Investigators may unlock mystery of how staph cells dodge the body's immune system

September 21, 2017
For years, medical investigators have tried and failed to develop vaccines for a type of staph bacteria associated with the deadly superbug MRSA. But a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators shows how staph cells evade the ...

Superbug's spread to Vietnam threatens malaria control

September 21, 2017
A highly drug resistant malaria 'superbug' from western Cambodia is now present in southern Vietnam, leading to alarming failure rates for dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-piperaquine—Vietnam's national first-line malaria treatment, ...

Individualized diets for irritable bowel syndrome better than placebo

September 21, 2017
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who follow individualized diets based on food sensitivity testing experience fewer symptoms, say Yale researchers. Their study is among the first to provide scientific evidence for this ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.