Princeton University Meningitis Update
March 24, 2014
We would like to update you regarding recent developments related to meningitis (meningococcal disease) cases reported at Princeton and Drexel Universities. Please note that there have been no cases of meningitis reported on either of Rider’s Lawrenceville or Princeton (Westminster Choir College) campuses.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), there have been nine cases of meningitis associated with Princeton University as of early March. Eight of the nine cases involved Princeton University students and one visitor who have since recovered. The ninth case involved a female student from Drexel University who had close contact with Princeton University students about a week before becoming ill and, sadly, passed away on March 10. To date, no related cases among Drexel students have been reported. You may have also heard about a potential case involving a Rowan University student. To date, it has not been confirmed to involve meningitis.
The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a statement that read in part, “CDC’s laboratory analysis shows that the strain in Princeton University’s serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak matches the strain in the Drexel University case. This information suggests that the outbreak strain may still be present in the Princeton University community, and we need to be vigilant for additional cases.”
It is important to note that meningitis bacteria are NOT spread by casual contact activities such as being in the same workspace or classroom as a sick individual or handling books or other items that a sick person has touched. The bacteria cannot live outside the body for very long so the disease is not as easily transmitted.
Given the number of cases of meningitis among its students, Princeton University offered a two-dose serogroup B meningococcal vaccine to eligible students. The first dose was administered in December 2013 and the second dose was administered in February 2014. The vaccine is currently licensed for use only in Europe and Australia but the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in Princeton’s case.
According to NJDOH, it is not yet known if transmission will continue to occur at Princeton University or if more cases will be seen at Drexel University. NJDOH continues to work with its public health partners to closely monitor the situation and encourage individuals to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of meningitis.
We will continue to work closely with NJDOH and local health officials, and will keep our campus communities updated as additional information becomes available. We provide the following facts for your information.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
Meningitis (meningococcal disease) is a severe infection of the blood or the meninges, the covering of the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by a bacterium (germ) called Neisseria meningitides.
Early symptoms include:
• body aches
• feeling very tired or sleepy
Other symptoms that may occur are:
• stiff neck
• nausea and/or vomiting
• sensitivity to light
Left untreated, the disease can progress rapidly, often within hours of the first symptoms, and can lead to shock, death or serious complications, including hearing loss, brain damage, kidney disease or limb amputations.
Seek medical care immediately if you have these symptoms by contacting your personal health care provider, Rider’s Student Health Services at 609-896-5060 (both campuses) or Public Safety at 609-896-5029 (both campuses).
How do people get meningitis?
You must be in close contact with a sick person’s secretions (saliva or other respiratory secretions) in order for the meningitis bacteria to spread. The infectious period is considered to be from 10 days before the person becomes ill to one day after he or she begins taking antibiotics.
Close contact includes activities such as:
• Living in the same household or sleeping in the same dwelling
• Sharing eating utensils, food, drinks or cigarettes
• Uncovered face-to-face sneezing or coughing
Meningitis bacteria are NOT spread by casual contact activities such as being in the same workspace or classroom as a sick individual or handling books or other items that a sick person has touched. The bacteria cannot live outside the body for very long so the disease is not as easily transmitted.
What can I do to reduce the risk of getting meningitis?
We encourage all members of our campus communities to continue the preventive practices recommended by public health officials, such as those listed below, to help prevent the spread of germs that cause meningitis as well as respiratory illnesses like the flu.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, and dispose of the tissue immediately in the trash. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. You should wash your hands before eating.
• Avoid sharing utensils, water bottles or other items contaminated by saliva or respiratory secretions. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of rest.
Isn't there a vaccine for meningitis?
There is a vaccine for meningitis and New Jersey State law requires that all students living in college and university residences must be vaccinated. However, while the vaccine protects against most strains of the bacteria, it does not protect against type B, which is the type found in the cases involving Princeton University.
Will the vaccine administered at Princeton University be offered to Rider students?
Princeton University offered a two-dose serogroup B meningococcal vaccine to its undergraduate students (those who live in dormitories or off campus) and graduate students who live in dormitories. The first dose was administered in December 2013 and the second dose was administered in February 2014. The vaccine is currently licensed for use only in Europe and Australia but the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in Princeton’s case. Based on the CDC's assessment of the cases at Princeton, only these groups were recommended to receive the vaccine.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely and explore opportunities as they become available with the help of local health officials. We will also keep our campus communities updated as additional information becomes available.
Should we avoid attending Princeton University during this time?
At this time, there are no recommendations by public health officials to cancel any activities or scheduled events at Princeton University. There are also no recommendations for the surrounding community to avoid contact with Princeton University or its students. Princeton University continues to hold classes and events as scheduled.
As per the NJDOH, a crucial part of managing suspected meningitis outbreaks and promoting early case recognition involves educating communities, physicians and other healthcare workers about the disease.
What should I first do if I am experiencing meningitis like symptoms?
Commuter students should contact their personal healthcare provider.
Resident students should contact Student Health Services as follows:
• Monday–Friday, 8:30–4:30 p.m.: Contact Student Health Services first by phone at 609-896-5060 (both campuses) before coming in to be seen.
• Weeknights and weekends: Contact Public Safety at 609-896-5029. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, Public Safety will notify the local ambulance squad or appropriate Student Affairs staff. If symptoms are not severe, we will encourage you to go home.
Where do I go for additional information?
We will continue to monitor the situation closely with the help of public health officials and update you accordingly via our Web site at www.rider.edu. Information is also available at www.nj.gov/health/cd/meningo/index.shtml and www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html. We encourage you to take advantage of these resources as well.
You should also feel free to contact Student Health Services at 609-896-5060 or the Dean of Students office at 609-896-5101.
The State of New Jersey requires that students and parents are aware of a potentially life threatening disease called Meningococcal Meningitis. All parents and students are required to read the letter concerning meningitis for Undergraduates and Graduate / CSS students and information regarding an available vaccine. The student’s decision regarding the vaccine must be recorded on the front side of the Student Health Record. Graduate and CCS students must complete the VACCINE REPORTING FORM and return it to the Health Center with your option clearly indicated.
As a condition of residency, all residential students will be required to receive the vaccine against Meningococcal Meningitis. The date of vaccination, as with the dates of the other required vaccines, must be recorded on the Student Health Record in order for students to fulfill their Health Services requirements.