Meningitis Outbreaks in Santa Barbara & Princeton

Meningitis Outbreaks at Santa Barbara & Princeton

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, their child, who’s away at college contracts a rare form of Meningitis, and it’s the one type that’s NOT included in the mandatory meningitis vaccine required for college students. In the current situation at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where 4 students were affected and 1 needed to have both feet amputated to save his life. At Princeton, 7 students have been affected, and luckily none of them fatally. The first case was recognized in March, 2013 and the 7th just last week, in November, 2013. And there's one case of a staffer at UC Riverside contracting the disease. 

The student from Santa Barbara was a lacrosse player who was apparently in septic shock. What happens is that the toxins from the meningitis bacteria overwhelm and damage the blood vessels in the limbs, which deprives the tissues of oxygen. The tissue in those limbs then die and if it’s not treated, can lead to more serious and life-threatening issues. Amputation is a last resort to save the person’s life.

What’s going on?

College students are required to be vaccinated against meningitis, which is a very serious infection.  Though the number of cases in the US is between 800-to 1,500 each year, a small percentage of people who contract any type of meningitis can have serious, even life-threatening consequences.

What Causes Meningitis?

Meningitis may be caused by bacteria or by a virus. In the case of the Meningitis outbreaks in Santa Barbara and Princeton students it’s caused by Niesseria Meningitidis, sero group B. (This is not the same thing as Streptococcus group B). The bacteria can wreak havoc in one of 2 ways:

  1. By attacking the protective membranes, (meninges) that surround the brain and the spinal cord.
  2. By causing an overwhelming infection throughout the entire body,  leading to very high fevers, septicemia and organ failure.

This bacteria can easily be spread by people sharing cups, drinking from the same bottle, using the same eating utensils, coughing close to someone, or from kissing or other intimate contact.

But I thought college students had to be vaccinated for meningitis

It’s true that college students are required to be vaccinated for meningitis. However, he current vaccines that are used in the US cover Meningitis Groups A, C, Y and W. The vaccines in the US don’t cover Meningitis sero group B, which isn’t as common in the US as it is in other countries. There’s also a sero group X, which is also not covered by the vaccines.

Is there a vaccine for Sero Group B Meningitis?

There is a vaccine, Bexsero, for this type of meningitis that has been used in Europe and Australia. It was studied in 8,000 children, teens and adults and licensed for use there. Because it hasn’t been licensed for use in the US, the FDA is allowing the use of this vaccine for students at Princeton under an Investigational New Drug Application. Not because it’s a new drug, but because this is how the FDA can fast track the use of this potentially life-saving vaccine for students at Princeton. It’s also being considered for the students in Santa Barbara.

The vaccine will be given in 2 dose, 6 months apart and right now is optional for students.

What are the signs of Meningitis?

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff, Aching Neck
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Confusion

For more on Meningitis, see the Centers For Disease Control Website.


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