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Growing Concerns About Meningococcal Disease After College Student Dies

Posted on Monday, March 24, 2014

On Monday, March 10, a Drexel University student tragically died from serogroup B meningococcal disease. CDC’s laboratory analysis shows that the strain in Princeton University’s serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak matches the strain in the Drexel University case by “genetic fingerprinting.” This information suggests that the outbreak strain may still be present in the Princeton University community and we need to be vigilant for additional cases.

As with all cases of meningococcal disease, the local health department quickly and thoroughly investigated who has been in close contact with the Drexel University student prior to illness onset. Antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent additional cases of meningococcal disease was recommended and administered to those who had or may have had close contact. To date, no related cases among Drexel University students have been reported.

The public health investigation of the Drexel University student revealed that the student had been in close contact with students from Princeton University about a week before becoming ill. Princeton University has been experiencing a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak.

A high percentage of Princeton University undergraduates and eligible graduate students received 2 doses of the investigational serogroup B vaccine as part of a recent vaccination effort at Princeton University. There are currently no serogroup B vaccines licensed (approved) in the United States. Those who have received the investigational vaccine have likely protected themselves from getting sick (there have been no new cases among Princeton University students since the vaccination campaign began on December 9, 2013). Available data show most adolescents that get 2 doses of this vaccine are protected from getting meningococcal disease. However, vaccinated individuals may still be able to carry the bacteria in their throats, which could infect others through close contact.

The local health department and Drexel University are taking all the recommended steps to prevent additional cases. Because Drexel University is not experiencing an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease, members of that community are not considered to be at increased risk.  The investigational serogroup B vaccine is not currently available to the Drexel University community. 

We will continue to closely monitor the situation and determine next steps while local health authorities remain vigilant to recognizing and promptly treating any new cases. At this time, CDC does not recommend limiting social interactions or canceling travel plans as a preventive measure for meningococcal disease.

We recognize that when cases of meningococcal disease occur, there is increased concern about the potential spread of disease and desire to take appropriate steps to prevent additional cases. There is no evidence that family members and the community are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease from casual contact with Princeton University students, faculty, or staff. Although transmission is from person-to-person, this organism is not highly contagious and requires sharing respiratory and oral secretions to spread. Those at highest risk for disease are people who have had close, prolonged, or face-to-face contact with someone who has meningococcal disease.

Students at both Universities should be especially vigilant to the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek urgent treatment if suspected. Symptoms may include sudden onset of a high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, or a rash. Handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes are also good practices to follow.

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