Meningitis Outbreaks This Holiday Season

25 11 2013

What’s going on with meningitis at Princeton and UC Santa Barbara?

Both universities are experiencing an outbreak of meningitis—specifically, serogroup B (that’s the genetic fingerprint of the particular strain of meningitis).

In the US, we don’t have an approved vaccine against this serogroup or strain, but we do have vaccines that fight other strains of meningitis, such as C and Y. Those vaccines are working great!

We’re seeing more serogroup B infection right now because there’s no vaccine available in the US to control transmission. And, we’re seeing an outbreak because that just happens sometimes, particularly when there’s no vaccine to prevent it.

As of 25 November, there have been seven cases identified at Princeton, with a probable eighth case not yet formally identified. Three cases have been identified so far at UC Santa Barbara.

Some of the cases have been serious, but to date there are no deaths. Dr. Amanda Cohn, a pediatrician and expert in meningitis with the CDC, talked about these outbreaks today in a teleconference.

She said that while health departments and healthcare providers should be aware of symptoms and think about meningitis should they see indications, it is safe for the college kids to come home for the holidays.

CDC is not expecting transmission in the home. It tends to occur with very close contact (“french” kissing, sharing a room and coughing all over a roommate). Generally, you might get either meningococcal meningitis or meningococcal septicemia from a meningococcal infection.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis as noted by CDC include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Headache (severe)
  • Stiff neck (hurts to move it)

Other symptoms might include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

The symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure. This infection can be serious with long-term consequences such as hearing loss or brain damage, and it is at times fatal.

Symptoms of meningococcal septicemia may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cold chills
  • Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen (belly)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • In the later stages, a dark purple rash

These symptoms can come on in a matter of hours and the infection is very dangerous.

Prevention means washing your hands and covering your coughs and sneezes. Get up-to-date on your immunizations (no matter your age) and know that, if a healthcare provider suspects someone in the home may have an infection, those in close contact will receive antibiotics to prevent the spread of the disease. There are some manufacturers working on vaccines that include serogroup B for approval in the US, but they are not yet at the final stages of development on those vaccines.


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