NEW YORK (PIX11) — The same strain of Meningitis B that sickened eight students at Princeton University last fall killed a 19-year old undergrad at Georgetown in Washington D.C this week, causing new concerns for parents of college students.
“Typically, meningitis starts with a headache and a sudden onset of fever, a stiff neck,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. “Light may bother your eyes, you may have nausea and vomiting. A stiff neck is a key symptom,” Dr. Glatter told PIX11 News.
Andrea Jaime’s death Tuesday at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital underscores the need for a sanctioned vaccine to help prevent the serogroup B strain of bacterial meningitis, according to the National Meningitis Association.
The B strain also killed a college student at Drexel University in Philadelphia back on March 10, 2014, only a few months after the outbreak at Princeton in New Jersey.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Most people who get proper treatment for the infection with antibiotics recover.
Bacterial meningitis is transmitted through close contact, usually by exchanging saliva in shared drinks and cigarettes—or by living in the same, close quarters, like a college dorm situation.
Although serogroup B meningococcal disease is rare, the meningitis is spread “by direct contact with throat secretions or respiratory secretions,” Dr. Glatter told PIX11. “Kissing, hugging, sharing utensils or a cup, even sharing a hookah, which is a common practice among college students,” can spread the illness, Dr. Glatter noted.
Doctors warn the illness can start with flu-like symptoms: fever, stiff neck, vomiting and delirium. If the bacteria spreads without treatment, it can cause neurological damage or death.
“The bacteria responsible for meningitis can incubate for up to three to seven days,” Glatter said, “and during that time, you can be infectious to others.”
Andrea Jaime—raised in Coral Gables, Florida and originally from Bogota, Colombia—was a sophomore at the School of Nursing and Health Studies at Georgetown.
Jaime had tweeted about having a fever of 105 degrees late last week, and her message was sadly prophetic: “This is what dying must feel like.”
In December 2013, many students at Princeton University were administered an UNLICENSED vaccine, called Bexsero, after the Centers for Disease Control—along with the Food and Drug Administration—approved its use at the New Jersey campus, after the outbreak. Bexsero has been licensed for use in Europe, Canada, and Australia.
The CDC in the United States also allowed its distribution to students last year at the University of California, Santa Barbara, after four students there became sick with meningitis. That outbreak there was said to be unrelated to the Princeton situation.
Two vaccines that can help prevent serogroup B meningitis are now in “priority review” with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
College students, especially those living in dorms, are being encouraged to take precautions: keeping their hands and clothing clean—and not sharing cups or cigarettes.