Princeton University Meningitis Outbreak: 7th Person Diagnosed On Prestigious Campus

Princeton University
Princeton University confirmed its seventh case of meningitis on Sunday in what has been a yearlong outbreak on the campus. Reuters

Princeton University’s ongoing meningitis outbreak has reached seven confirmed cases, after a student was diagnosed early Sunday morning. The New Jersey Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working with the university to find the source of the disease that started making its way around the congested college campus last March.

State health officials are currently running tests on the student to determine if his diagnosis is related to the six other patients who recovered from their illness. All previous cases were contracted through the type B meningococcal bacteria. Left untreated, 50 percent of meningococcal cases can turn deadly or result in serious health complications.

New Jersey State law requires that all students living in campus dorms receive the meningitis vaccine. Unfortunately, this vaccine protects against all strains of meningitis except for type B meningococcal bacteria. Health care professionals say meningitis can be spread through kissing, coughing, or simply spending too much time around someone who is infected.

“The bacteria are spread from person to person through saliva or other respiratory secretions. The infectious period for meningococcal disease is considered to be from 10 days before the person becomes ill to 1 day after he or she starts on antibiotics,” the New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement. “This means that people who were in close contact with the sick person during this time are at higher than average risk to get meningococcal disease. You must be in close contact with a sick person's secretions in order for the bacteria to spread.”

Meningococcal disease is caused when the bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, infects the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. If left untreated it can become life-threatening or lead to serious health complications, including brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss, and limb amputation.

Due to the highly contagious nature of meningococcal meningitis, last September, Princeton University officials handed out 5,000, 16 oz. red cups that read “Mine, Not Yours” so that students would refrain from sharing drinks in a social setting. Professor Kathy Wagner and students from the Student Health Advisory Board thought the initiative would prevent the spread of meningitis and help students curb their alcohol consumption.

“After seeing similar cups in use at other institutions, with standard drink sizes marked on them in order to promote safe drinking among students who choose to drink, and knowing that one of the ways meningitis type B is spread is through sharing drinks, I thought it would be great if we could provide Princeton students with similar cups, and also include a message reminding students not to share drinks,” Wagner told The Times of Trenton.

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