The University of Oregon confirms seven meningitis cases as the father of a college student falls ill to the disease after an early May visit. The meningococcal outbreak began in January and caused one student’s death, according to reports.
The seventh victim is a 52-year old man diagnosed with meningococcemia, an early form of the bacterial meningitis, this weekend after being exposed to the infection on campus six weeks ago, according to the Lane County Public Health spokesman.
Enrolled undergraduates were asked by the university to participate in a vaccination process after Lauren Jones, 18, died from the disease in February. The special vaccine is only available during outbreaks. Bacterial meningitis is potentially deadly because it affects the spinal cord and causes swelling in the brain. It can also cause paralysis and permanent brain damage. Early indications are flu-like symptoms like fever, but also include other symptoms such as neck pain.
While all 22,000 students were encouraged to undergo vaccinations on campus, visitors were not asked to participate in the vaccination program. Health officials said non-student visitors typically are not a high risk for contracting the disease. Students are considered vulnerable because meningitis is spread with close contact. College students are known for sharing food, personal care products and live in smaller spaces like dorm rooms.
Another disappointment for health officials is that only half of University of Oregon students decided to participate in the vaccine program. A large clinic was held in one of the campus’ arenas in May and university officials plan another such event in the fall when students return for classes.
Students, parents and officials hope that students returning home will stop further spread of the disease since the on-campus environment will not exist in the summer as it does throughout the year. Even still, the disease can linger and officials state there could be another case in the future. Other universities across the United States have seen a return of the disease several months after the initial outbreak is controlled. Health officials said the disease can be in a dormant state for up to two years. With seven cases of meningitis confirmed at the University of Oregon, health officials will have some work to do for several months or even years.
One of the worst meningitis outbreaks was at West Georgia College in Carrollton, Ga., in the early 1990s. Several people died in that epidemic and concerns grew to the point that officials asked for every Carrollton resident to get a vaccination and most did in mass clinics orchestrated by the board of health. The disease also struck the University of California Santa Barbara and Princeton University in 2014. Doctors said the two outbreaks, occurring between November and March, are happenstance and were not related to each other.
There are five groups of meningitis with meningitis B causing most of the serious cases. There was not a vaccine for this group in the United States until 2014. Vaccinations are the most important thing a person can do to prevent contracting meningitis.
The bacteria in those 2013 cases were the same strain. One student had his feet amputated after succumbing to the disease. Three other students recovered. There were 160 reported cases of the disease in 2013, according to records. The University of Oregon has seen most of their students recover from the disease, even though one died.
Officials at the University of Oregon are seeing a bit of relief now that students are home and not on the campus, but know it could be the same situation when school starts again in the fall. Since the University of Oregon has confirmed seven cases of meningitis this year, school officials are spending the summer planning new methods to encourage more students to get vaccinated in the fall.
By Melody Dareing
Reuters: University of Oregon meningitis outbreak grows; student’s father diagnosed
Oregon Live: Seventh case of meningococcal disease linked to University of Oregon
The Register-Guard: Health officials confirm seventh case of bacterial infection tied to University of Oregon outbreak
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