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CDC Importing Meningitis Vaccine in Response to Outbreak at Princeton University

Federal health officials have agreed to import a vaccine licensed in Europe and Australia but not the U.S. in response to the meningitis outbreak at Princeton University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to import Bexsero, a vaccine licensed in Europe and Australia that protects against meningitis B, a strain this is not covered by the shots given to college students in the U.S. Bexsero will be approved for use only in the Princeton community because of the seriousness of the outbreak.

The trustees of Princeton University are slated to discuss the issue this weekend and then the school will make a decision about whether to use the vaccine.

Officials confirmed the school’s seventh case of meningitis this week.

The state declared that there was an outbreak at the school after a male student developed symptoms of meningococcal disease on November 9. The case was later confirmed, making it the seventh case since the spring.

A female student who was away from campus for spring recess last March developed symptoms of meningococcal disease when returning to the area. Then a visitor on the campus April 6-8 was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis after returning to another state. A male student was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis in May. A male student who lives out of state developed symptoms on his way home for summer recess in May. Another male student who developed symptoms in June while traveling abroad. The sixth case was a female student who developed symptoms on Oct. 1 and is still recovering. No common link has been identified among the cases, state officials said.

Meningococcal disease can be spread from person to person. The bacteria are spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions during close contact (for example, coughing or kissing) or lengthy contact, especially if people are living in the same dorm or household. Many people carry the bacteria in their throats without getting meningococcal disease. Since so many people carry the bacteria, most cases of meningococcal disease appear to be random and aren’t linked to other cases. Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, adolescents and college freshmen who live in dormitories are at an increased risk. The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are less infectious than the viruses that cause the flu.

You can help prevent the spread of illnesses by covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, by washing your hands, and by avoiding sharing utensils, water bottles or other items contaminated by saliva or respiratory secretions. For more information visit the New Jersey Department of Health website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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