Meningitis strikes 3 U.S. college campuses in recent weeks

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A colony of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis, a rare, but serious disease. Since the beginning of 2016, there have been four confirmed cases of meningitis on U.S. college campuses. Image courtesy of CDC

A colony of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis, a rare, but serious disease. Since the beginning of 2016, there have been four confirmed cases of meningitis on U.S. college campuses. Image courtesy of CDC

Meningitis has surfaced on three U.S. college campuses in the last few weeks, infecting four students and blamed for the death of a university employee, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Three Santa Clara University students fell ill in late January from meningitis-causing bacteria, spokeswoman Deepa Arora told the NewsHour. As a result of the bacterial infection, two students developed meningitis, which affects the lining of the brain and spinal cord. A third student developed septicemia, an infection of the bloodstream.

All three have been released from the hospital, she said.

The disease, which is rare, can cause severe neurological damage and death.

Most college students routinely get vaccinated against four forms of the disease, but not against a bacterial form known as “serogroup B,” which all three Santa Clara students caught. The Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccines for that particular strain in 2014, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccines against this serogroup only for specific high-risk groups, including people facing an outbreak.

Santa Clara University has held four free vaccination clinics in the past week, including on Monday, vaccinating about 4,300 of its 9,000 students.

Meningitis, which is usually caused by either bacteria or a virus, spreads through close contact with an infected person. Coughing, kissing or sharing a drink can spread the disease. Symptoms include neck pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, according to the CDC.

An employee at Argosy University in Alameda, California, died from the disease in late January. Although the small, for-profit college’s campus lies less than an hour’s drive from Santa Clara, an Argosy spokeswoman told the local CBS affiliate Thursday that the two campuses’ brushes with the disease were unrelated.

“Because bacterial meningitis is typically contracted through direct, close contact with someone who is infected, we have been advised that there is no indication of a significant health risk to the broader community,” spokeswoman Sherri Willis told the CBS station.

She added that the deceased employee had a different strain of the disease from students at Santa Clara.

A 19-year-old student at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, contracted a bacterial form of the disease and is now recovering, according to a statement released Thursday from the Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department.

At all three campuses, those who had “direct contact” with an infected person – being within three feet of them for eight or more hours – were treated with preventive antibiotics.

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