As of Friday, Nov. 22, there have been three confirmed cases of meningococcal disease at University of California, Santa Barbara. Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes bloodstream infection and meningitis. The date of illness onset for the three cases was Nov. 11, 13, and 18, according to a press release from Student Health.
“The nature of this disease is that it will appear randomly in a healthy person,” said Dr. Mary Ferris, Student Health Executive Director. “That’s why it’s so feared in the medical community, because for no apparent reason, a healthy person will get a life threatening illness.”
Symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, unusual rash, vomiting, and photophobia. Students with the above symptoms should be sent to the Emergency Room immediately and contact Disease Control at (805) 681-5280.
According to Student Health, Meningococcal Disease has a 10 to 30 percent mortality rate. Thus, early treatment is necessary for a good outcome. To minimize exposure, students should avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, water bottles, or other items contaminated by the saliva or respiratory secretions of others.
Current vaccinations against meningitis protect against four different serogroups: A, C, Y, and W. However, serogroup B, not currently included in the vaccine, is the cause of the outbreak at UCSB.
The Department of Public Health has not been able to determine from exactly where the disease originated. In most cases, meningitis presents as a single isolated case. Ferris and other healthcare officials have been dismayed to find three Santa Barbara cases in the last two weeks.
However, two of the cases have been discharged from medical care and have completely recovered. The third case is still in treatment. Meningitis is managed in the hospital with a five-day course of IV antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, such as if the patient goes into septic shock, intensive care treatments may be necessary. Rumors circulating around campus of a possible amputation were not confirmed.
“It’s a bit of a wakeup call that something so serious could happen at our school,” said Melanie Supple, fourth-year psychology major. “It’s an important reminder to be safe and cautious. You never think that it’ll happen here in Santa Barbara.”
Despite both Princeton and UCSB experiencing outbreaks from serogroup B, genetic typing has proven that the two outbreaks are unrelated and that the strains are not identical. Because it has seven confirmed cases of meningitis, Princeton students will soon have access to a new vaccine, Bexsero, that targets serogroup B.
The FDA has only approved the use of this vaccine for the Princeton cases. Ferris explained that despite anger from parents that students would not be getting Bexsero, UCSB students will only get access to the new vaccine if public health officials and the CDC deem it necessary. Ferris stresses that it is still important for students to receive the current vaccine for the four other strains.
“The reason we’re not seeing those strains is because we’ve got a good immunization level,” Ferris said.
Antibiotic prophylaxis has been given to over 500 students who have been exposed in close contact to the disease. Only the students at most risk have received the treatment, an antibiotic pill that decreases the chance that the exposed person will develop Meningococcal Disease.
“It’s our strongest hope that by treating so many of the close contact so quickly we will prevent further spread of the disease,” said Ferris.
Ferris encourages students to stay updated with their vaccinations and maintain good hygiene to protect themselves from infectious disease.