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Meningitis Scare at Princeton

By: Kris Schneider

Princeton University, one of the nation’s most exclusive schools and an Ivy League institution, has recently been faced with a potentially catastrophic outbreak of meningitis, a disease that has been largely eradicated in the United States, where the meningitis vaccine has been required for years.  Only a handful of cases each year pop up across the nation.  Bacterial meningitis, the type currently causing issues at Princeton, is caused by bacteria, and is highly contagious.  It is also highly unusual in the United States.  The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages anyone that may be displaying symptoms, which include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, severe headache, and others, to immediately seek medical attention to avoid the spread of the disease.  Bacterial meningitis can be fatal if left untreated.  Treatment is most effective when bacterial meningitis is detected early, and includes the use of antibiotics, which reduces the risk of dying from the disease to less than 15%.

Since early this year, there have been seven confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis on the Princeton campus, with an eighth pending confirmation as of November 25, 2013.  It is highly unusual for so many cases to be reported and confirmed at once, in one location.  Experts believe that the disease spread so quickly within the campus because of traditional college life, which includes sharing drinks, kissing, etc., which all increase the chances of spreading meningitis.  Students and parents alike voiced concern over the outbreak and demanded answers from university officials on a remedy to the problem.

With no vaccine for this specific strain of meningitis approved for use in the United States, Princeton’s hands were effectively tied.  Then, a potential solution to the issue was suggested.  There is a vaccine, Bexsero, which is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat meningitis, but it is approved for public use in Europe and Australia.  After crossing the preliminary hurdles for an emergency import of the vaccine, the CDC declared that the university desperately needed the vaccine for the benefit of public health, and pressured the FDA to approve an emergency import.  This request was authorized by the FDA, and the final decision was left to the university.

Princeton University officials approved the use of the vaccine on November 18, outlining details of the vaccination plan.  The vaccine is currently being offered to all students at the university.  The vaccine comes in two doses- the first is being given to students now, and officials plan to roll out the second dose in February.

As the latest health scare is quietly subdued by emergency medical prevention in Princeton, awareness for bacterial meningitis has grown over the past month.  Increased discussion regarding the approval of Bexsero in the United States has led to a renewed push for the discouragement of the sharing of drinks and food.  The CDC reminds everyone to be wary, and if you suspect you have any symptoms of meningitis, to seek medical attention immediately.  That means that you should call your doctor or go to an emergency room.  It could save your life.

For more information on meningitis, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/meningitis.

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