Meningitis Outbreak Includes Six Princeton Students

A meningitis outbreak has sickened seven people at Princeton University. Beginning in March, six university students and one visitor were diagnosed with the serious disease.

The outbreak prompted university officials to offer students a vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the United States. The immunization has proven effective in treating the rare strain identified in the Princeton outbreak. While it is not used in the US, it has been successful in Australia and Europe.

As reported by USA Today, the vaccination campaign is unusual, but not unprecedented. Jason Schwartz, with Princeton’s Center for Human Values, said university officials did not “make this decision lightly.”

Schwartz said the “gravity of the unfolding public health threat” underlined an urgency to “minimize or eliminate the risk.”

Officials said the outbreak is confined to the campus. There have been no recorded meningitis cases elsewhere in the city or the state.

CDC spokeswoman Sharon Hoskins said it is “highly unlikely” that the disease will spread, as “prolonged, close contact” is required. She said there is no reason for students to cancel their holiday travel plans.

Physician James Turner is monitoring the outbreak. He said the disease is spreading very slowly over a period of months. Turner assures residents that there is “no reason to panic.”

According to the CDC, there are five types of meningitis. The types are classified by their origin, which may include bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, injury, or serious illness. The severity of the disease varies depending on the origin.

Officials determined that the Princeton outbreak was likely caused by a virus. Viral meningitis is an infection of the protective meninges, which covers the spinal cord and brain.

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Health officials explain that the virus is spread like any other communicable disease. They urge everyone to wash their hands often to avoid spreading disease and viruses.

The most common symptoms include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and altered mental status.

Meningitis outbreaks are rare, but they can be frightening. Officials do not expect the Princeton cases to spread beyond the campus.

[Image via Flickr]