Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, are grappling with meningitis cases among their students, with two separate strains of the bacterial disease suspected to be the cause.
Santa Barbara health officials identified 4 students who were recently diagnosed with the bacterial infection that causes meningitis. One of the Santa Barbara students had both feet amputated because of the infection, caused by the meningococcal bacteria.
At Princeton, 8 students and visitors to the campus were reported to have been diagnosed with meningitis. All of the students have been diagnosed with a rare form of the disease, serogroup B. While about 80% of young adults have received vaccines for meningitis, those vaccines don’t protect against this form of meningococcal disease.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 160 of the 480 meningitis cases reported to it in 2012 were serogroup B. Princeton is recommending students receive a European vaccine for the serogroup B form of the infection.
College students are considered more susceptible to meningitis because of their close living arrangements. Meningococcal diseases are caused by Neisseria meningitides bacteria. There are a few different types or strains of Neisseria meningitides. In the United States, types B, C, and Y cause the majority of disease.
Meningococcal diseases can spread through kissing, coughing, or lengthy contact. None of the types of bacteria that cause meningitis is as contagious as the common cold or the flu, and the bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
Meningitis is a swelling of the tissue that lines the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. Symptoms can be flu-like and include a sudden fever, headache and stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and increased sensitivity to light. Later in the illness, a rash that looks like purple blotches or spots on the arms, legs, and torso may appear. Occasionally, there can be pustules in the center of the purple spots. Early recognition of the skin symptoms may be critical to know how serious the infection can be. To read about an app that is designed to help with diagnosis and how it helped in diagnosing this condition in real patients, see this true story.
In the United States, the CDC reports that approximately 800 to 1,500 people are infected with meningococcal meningitis per year, and about 120 die from the disease. About 1 of every 5 survivors lives with permanent disabilities, such as seizures, amputations, kidney disease, deafness, brain damage, and psychological problems.
Treatment should be started immediately. Most people with meningitis are hospitalized and treated with antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, other treatments may also be necessary.
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