A student at Drexel University in Philadelphia has died of the same strain of meningitis that caused an outbreak at New Jersey’s Princeton University last year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the Drexel case suggests that serogroup B meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis B, is still active at Princeton.
Sophomore Stephanie Ross, the Drexel student, died last week at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. She was found unresponsive in her sorority house on March 10. CDC researchers learned that one week before becoming ill she had been in contact with Princeton students.
Meningitis became rare on college and university campuses after a vaccine became available in 2005. New Jersey is one of at least 37 states that require students to be vaccinated. But the meningitis outbreak at Princeton was meningitis B, a strain that is not included in the meningitis vaccines administered in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had to approve the use of a different meningitis vaccine for Princeton Students because it is not yet approved for use in the U.S. However it is the only immunization specifically protecting against meningitis B.
The CDC does not consider the single case to represent a new outbreak, and there are currently no plans for vaccinations on the Drexel campus.
The Princeton meningitis outbreak sickened seven students and a campus visitor, and resulted in vaccinations of more than 5,000 Princeton community members, but, unlike the single Drexel case, caused no deaths. The Princeton meningitis B outbreak began in March 2013, and the CDC says there have not been any new cases at Princeton since December 9, but they will not say that a person could not still be infected. The Princeton outbreak spread relatively slowly, developing over six to seven months.
Most of the Princeton students Ross came into contact with had been vaccinated against meningitis B, but the CDC says it is possible for vaccinated people to spread the bacteria to others, even though they are protected themselves.
Meningitis requires sharing respiratory and oral secretions to spread, so contact such as kissing can transmit it from person to person. Princeton has urged people not to share eating utensils, drinking glasses, or smoking materials. The best prevention for meningitis also includes hand washing and getting plenty of rest. Health officials have said cancelling school events and activities is not necessary.
Meningitis can kill quickly and unexpectedly. It causes swelling of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, high fever, rash, light sensitivity, confusion, and stiff neck. People with such symptoms need to seek immediate medical attention.
Bacterial meningitis is fairly rare in the United States, with about 500 cases reported each year. As in the Princeton outbreak, more than one-third of these cases are caused by meningitis B, the strain that killed the Drexel student. About 10 percent of people who get meningitis die, and 20 percent are permanently disabled.
By: Beth A. Balen