Meningitis cases prevalent at universities

December 19, 2013

Managing Editor


A sudden onset of fever, a headache and a stiff neck are just a few of the symptoms that students at two universities in California and New Jersey experienced when a strain of meningitis labeled “B” infected them.


As of Dec. 4, the Center for Disease Control confirmed eight cases at Princeton and four more cases at the University of California, Santa Barbara. One of them, lacrosse player Aaron Loy from UCSB, lost both of his feet to amputation because of the disease.


Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, which are protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The cause of the recent outbreaks is bacterial, the most severe type.


Though no cases have been reported in Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals did send out a message to universities about ways to prevent an outbreak.


Paige Pickett, the Student Health Center director, said Tech has not seen any suspect cases in recent years, but there is still a risk.


“At any college campus, there is a risk due to close living quarters and sharing of personal items such as drinking cups and utensils,” Pickett said.


Vanessa Jones Johnson, an assistant professor and program coordinator in medical technology, said having college students vaccinated is a great way to reduce risk, but there is no way to reduce the risk to zero.


“Louisiana law requiring vaccination against meningitis began in fall 2006,” Johnson said. “As with any vaccination, they are not 100 percent effective.”


In the recent outbreaks, the vaccines available did not cover the strain of bacteria causing the infections, she said.


“This is what universities like Princeton have been dealing with,” Johnson said. “Causative agents of meningitis are fairly well known, therefore the vaccinations have been very effective, but with the evolution of diseases, variations will exist.”


Abiding by Louisiana law, Tech does require its students to be vaccinated for meningitis, but some students are able to sign an exemption form. Pickett said if students do not turn in proof of immunization, they sign a form saying they are aware that if there is an outbreak, they are not allowed on campus or to make up their work.


“We strongly suggest students receive the vaccine, as this will protect them from the most common type of meningitis,” she said. “We do not recommend signing the exemption.”


Sarah Moosa, a junior environmental science major, said she sees the value of mandatory vaccines.


“It helps prevent diseases like meningitis from going rampant in areas with high population densities such as a university classroom,” she said. “They are for the good of the whole so that students and faculty can remain healthy.”


Johnson said Tech is in line with Louisiana’s state requirements when it comes to ensuring medical safety of the students, but prevention is a collaborative effort.


The students must also actively avoid situations that increase the chance of infection.


“The recent outbreaks do worry me a little, but worry won’t get us anywhere unless there is action behind it,” Moosa said. “As long as students are made aware of the symptoms and preventative measures are taken by the university, there isn’t much else we can do.”


Email comments to hms017@latech.edu.





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