A seventh possible meningitis case has been reported at Princeton University, and the New Jersey Department of Health is now considering there to be an outbreak of meningococcal disease at the school.
The state issued a news release about the outbreak after a male student developed symptoms of meningococcal disease on November 9. The student was taken to a local hospital Sunday morning and is still hospitalized. An investigation is ongoing, and laboratory data for the case are pending, state officials said.
“The NJDOH, local health officials, and Princeton University Health Services, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continue to work together to monitor the situation and identify cases and their close contacts,” reads the news release. “At this time, there are no recommendations to cancel any activities or scheduled events on the Princeton University Campus. There are also no recommendations for the surrounding community to avoid contact with Princeton or Princeton students.”
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 enveloped 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.
The state, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is considering this to be “a school-based outbreak of meningococcal disease” given that six people at the school have been diagnosed with Neisseria meningitidis serogroup (type) B in a short period of time.
There is currently no vaccine licensed in the United States that covers serogroup B. Even students who have been vaccinated against bacterial meningitis may still be vulnerable to infections with serogroup B.
“In an abundance of caution, we are considering this an outbreak,” reads the state news release. “The seventh case remains under investigation and laboratory data are pending. We hope that by considering this an outbreak, we will increase awareness and prompt early case recognition among members of the Princeton community and healthcare providers.”
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.