Princeton University Students on Alert with Meningitis Outbreak

By Lauren Wanko

The meningitis outbreak has some students on guard at Princeton University.

“I’ve seen the changes amongst my peers making sure we don’t share drinks, that you wash you hands more frequently and it’s just something that’s in conversation — did you hear about meningitis?” explained Princeton University sophomore Brenaea Fairchild.

“I don’t share drink bottles and I’m careful who I kiss,” said Princeton graduate student Simon Olsald.

Since March, seven people — six students and one visitor at the university — were diagnosed with the Type B strain of meningitis. It’s relatively rare. Last year out of 480 confirmed meningitis cases in the U.S., the CDC says only a third were Type B. And Type B’s not covered by the general meningitis vaccine offered in the United States.

Most students here got that general vaccine because New Jersey law requires it for kids living in dorms, attending four-year colleges. However, there is vaccine that does protect against the Type B strain. It isn’t licensed for use in the United States, but has been approved in Europe and Australia. And late last week the FDA informed the CDC it would allow the vaccine to be imported for this limited use.

When asked if she would consider getting the vaccine, Fairchild said, “I definitely would. I think it’s in our best bet to stay safe and stay healthy.”

“I would ask my parents first. Probably though,” said Princeton sophomore Kevin Lee.

“I think I would take the vaccine just to stay safe. I don’t want to take any extra risks,” said Princeton sophomore Lillian Su.

“I’d like to do some of my own research, but if it’s safe to do other places maybe it’s OK here,” Olsald said.

“We have been looking at any way possible to stem this tide. We have been educating our students with frequent reminders, text messages, e-mails, posters. We’ve been handing out cups at events where they can write their name on it so they are not sharing utensils,” said Princeton University Medical Services Associate Director Janet Negli.

Meningitis risk factors include living or sleeping in the same household, kissing, sharing eating utensils and food, sharing drinks and cigarettes and uncovered face-to-face sneezing and coughing.

“The good news is that this virus, this bacteria is not very hearty. Unlike the flu. If the flu is sitting on the table and you come here and touch yourself, you can contract the flu from the surface. This Type B meningitis is much heartier than that. It has to be direct contact,” Negli said.

Some symptoms of the potentially deadly bacterial infection include stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light.

As for the seven people diagnosed with the infection, Negli said, “The last student just last week will be out of the hospital today most likely. So all of our students have made good recoveries and we hope that’s it.”

With Thanksgiving break on their minds, these students couldn’t agree more.