A health update on a story The Easterner published two weeks ago about a meningitis outbreak in the Midwest. Now, what is being considered an outbreak of the “dorm disease” has also struck Washington State University.
The unnamed WSU student was diagnosed last Sunday with meningococcemia, a bacterial infection of the blood that is caused by the same organism as meningococcal meningitis.
The student is a 19-year-old male freshman member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He was admitted to Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds with rash, joint pains and swelling of the hands and feet. He is being treated with intravenous antibiotics and is in stable condition.
This case marks the third case within the WSU student population in the last two months. Each of these cases occurred in freshmen who were living in a sorority or fraternity at the time of infection. College students residing in high-density residential settings like fraternities, sororities and residence halls are at elevated risk for meningococcal disease.
According to Melanie Rose of the Spokane Regional Health District, “there haven’t been any reported cases at Eastern or in the Spokane area.”
Health officials from WSU and the Whitman County Public Health Department are calling close contacts of the student and administering antibiotics to those individuals as a precaution. Those who have come in close contact with someone diagnosed with the illness need to receive antibiotics to reduce their risk of contracting the disease.
Anyone who had close contact with this student were advised to receive an immunization as soon as possible. Those who had close contact are roommates, friends, spouses/partners, and anyone who had intimate contact with the infected person. Types of contacts include kissing, sharing drinking/eating utensils, sharing cigarettes and being exposed to droplet contamination from the nose or throat.
“Because of the type of the disease, three [cases] determines this as an outbreak by taking a look at CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines,” Rose said
“We are particularly urging WSU students who live or have recently lived in fraternities, sororities and residence halls to obtain the vaccine since these students are at higher risk. The vaccine is 85-90 percent effective against four of five meningococcal strains including the strain involved in these recent cases,” Wright said.
Symptoms of meningococcemia and meningitis present the same as the flu. These symptoms can include high fever, rash, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and joint pains. Symptoms of meningitis include severe headaches, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash, lethargy and high fever.
Those with symptoms should seek treatment immediately.
Meningococcal bacteria cannot usually live for more than a few minutes outside the body. The bacteria is not easily transmitted in water supplies, swimming pools, or by casual contact with an infected person in a classroom, dining room, bar, restroom, etc.
Meningococcal disease occurs more commonly in males than females and the chance of contracting the virus decreases with age.
WSU Health and Wellness is making arrangements for on-site vaccinations for summer school students currently living in the residence halls and fraternities/sororities. Information about the times and places will soon be available and disseminated via residence hall and Greek system staff.
The university also will contact current WSU students and their parents to recommend the students get the vaccine before returning to campus. The vaccine also will be offered to those participating in new student summer orientation programs.
When an outbreak, like the one at WSU is reported there are certain protocol that must be followed.
“The doctor who diagnosed the person would check to make sure there is a case (of meningococcal), if there is, they call the health district to report the case,” Rose said.
Rose also suggests, to college freshman especially, to get a meningitis vaccine, “it will protect you for 3-5 years,” she said.
Other ways to protect yourself include maximizing your body’s own immune system response. A lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, adequate sleep, appropriate exercise, and the avoidance of excessive stress is very important.
Avoiding upper respiratory tract infections and inhalation of cigarette smoke may help to protect from invasive disease.
Everyone should be sensitive to public health measures that decrease exposure to oral germs, such as covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing and washing hands after contact with the mouth.
For more information about Meningococcal Disease, go to the following Web site at the Center for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/meningococcal_g.htm or the American College Health Association at www.acha.org/.