Meningitis at Princeton May Lead to New Vaccine Use

Princeton meningococcal meningitis cases likely to lead to unapproved vaccine use per CDC recommendation

(RxWiki News) It is standard for many colleges to require vaccinations protecting students against meningitis. Now one US university is coping with a strain of the illness not protected by routine vaccines.

A strain of bacterial meningitis has infected seven on the Princeton University campus, likely leading to the use of an unapproved vaccination to prevent the spread.

In the meantime, university and health officials are asking the community to be vigilant in their hygiene practices and report sudden illness.

"Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly."

According to a statement from Princeton University, the seven illnesses, which occurred in students and a student visitor, were caused by a meningococcal bacteria called serogroup B. The earliest cases developed in March 2013 and the latest case was reported on November 11.

Bacterial meningitis, or meningococcal meningitis, can cause a sudden fever, headache and stiff neck as the membranes around the brain and spinal cord become infected and swell, explained the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infection can cause serious illness and death.

"The CDC is preparing to recommend that all Princeton University undergraduate students (those who live in dormitories or off campus) and graduate students who live in dormitories receive a vaccine that helps protect against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B," Princeton University reported.

The university also explained CDC would likely be recommending that other members of the Princeton community who don't fall into the above groups, but do have certain conditions that make them more prone to meningitis (like sickle cell disease), also receive the vaccine. 

"Pending final CDC approval, the university is prepared to accept these recommendations and make arrangements to provide access to this vaccine as soon as possible," Princeton reported.

The vaccine in question has not been approved in the US by the US Food and Drug Administration, but has been approved for use in Europe and Australia.

"These countries have higher rates of meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B compared to countries like the United States," the CDC explained.

According to Princeton, the university hopes to have the first two doses available in early December and a second dose in February.

"Students who already received a meningococcal vaccine are not currently protected against serogroup B, the bacteria causing the outbreak at Princeton," the university stressed.

According to Princeton, "The CDC and state health officials recommend that activities on the Princeton University campus continue as normal."

However, students are urged to increase hygienic practices and avoid sharing cups, silverware, smoking materials and other items. Additionally, students with a high fever or other sudden symptoms like a stiff neck and rapid breathing are asked to seek care. 

Review Date: 
November 21, 2013