The Grapevine

Seventh Case In University Of Oregon Meningitis Outbreak Confirmed, Could Prompt Mandatory Vaccines

University of Oregon
After visiting his daughter at the University of Oregon, a man became the seventh person on campus to contract a potentially deadly meningitis infection. Photo courtesy of Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock.com

It’s probably one of the last things a father visiting his daughter on her college campus would expect to come home with. But on Friday, Oregon state health officials confirmed the father of a University of Oregon student had become the seventh person to contract the potentially deadly meningococcal B disease in an outbreak linked back to the school’s campus.

The 52-year-old man’s infection was traced back to May 2-3, when he visited the campus to see his daughter, a student at the university. Upon returning to his home state, he was diagnosed with meningococcemia, a deadly bloodstream infection caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. Because it couldn’t immediately be linked to the University of Oregon outbreak, it took public health officials a few weeks to learn about the case, Jason Davis, spokesman for Lane County Public Health, where the university is located, told Reuters. The father is the first non-student to contract the disease in the university’s outbreak.

The father’s disease was diagnosed six weeks after the last on-campus infection, Davis said, adding that health officials aren’t “excluding the possibility of another case a year down the road.” Other universities throughout the country have experienced similar outbreaks, sometimes returning after months without new diagnoses. Since the outbreak began in January, one person has died from the disease, 18-year-old Lauren Jones from the university’s acrobatics and tumbling team.

The outbreak prompted the university to begin administering vaccines for this particular strain, meningitis B, to its students. About 10,000 students have gotten vaccinated so far, but 12,000 remain in need. The university plans to reach out to these students when they return to campus for the fall semester.

If they don’t get vaccinated on their own will, they may soon be mandated to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices plans to meet on June 24 to determine whether it should recommend meningitis B vaccines to all young people. According to The Oregonian, insurance companies would likely cover any vaccines if the committee recommends them, and universities across the U.S. would probably mandate them as they do with measles and mumps.

“This kind of work is not flashy, but these kinds of policies, we believe, will absolutely prevent illness and help students focus on health lifestyles and their classes,” Steve Clark, a spokesman for the university, told The Oregonian, adding that the university could mandate vaccinations by fall 2016 if the CDC recommends them. “We’re in favor of anything that’s going to keep our students safe.”

Meningococcal B disease is transmitted via close contact with another person’s respiratory or throat secretions. Visitors and students can reduce transmission by covering their mouth when they cough, washing and sanitizing their hands often, and not sharing drinks, utensils, or anything else that goes in the mouth or touches lips, with other people.  

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