Two meningitis cases have raised alert at Santa Clara University, prompting health authorities to launch vaccinations for all the 8,800 students enrolled at the Jesuit academic institution based in Silicon Valley.
It all began late at night, on Saturday, January 30, when a new member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity from Santa Clara University complained of debilitating headaches.
In a matter of hours, his state took a turn for the worse, the freshman complaining to his roommates from Swig Hall that he was experiencing extreme vertigo and confusion. Feeling deeply concerned, the fellow students quickly alerted health officials, who took charge of the situation.
The freshman was taken to a local hospital, where it was determined that he was suffering from meningococcal meningitis, after contracting strain B of the Neisseria meningitis bacterium.
Later that day, another Santa Clara freshman who was a resident of Swig Hall and pertained to the same Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity also started feeling unwell, and required hospitalization the following day.
As revealed in a press conference organized on Wednesday, February 3, by Santa County Public Health Department officials, this new patient is suffering from meningoccemia, marked by the presence of meningococci in the bloodstream.
According to Dr. Sara Cody, county health and communicable disease control officer, it hasn’t yet been confirmed if the second undergraduate developed the infection after contracting the same serogroup B of the Neisseria meningitis pathogen.
Still, as a preemptive measure following the 2 meningitis cases, around 20 to 30 dorm mates from Swig Hall have also received medical check-ups in order to establish if they too have contracted the disease. They have also been administered oral antibiotics in order to minimize risks as much as possible.
Moreover, Jillandra Rovaris, director of student health services at Santa Clara University, has also initiated an extensive vaccination process on campus, in order to ensure that the 8,800 pupils taking classes at the Jesuit university receive free immunization against strain B of the meningitis bacteria.
As Rovaris explained, it’s likely that most students are only protected against 4 other serogroups of this lethal pathogen, and remain vulnerable when it comes to this this new strain.
That’s because corresponding vaccines (Trumenba and Bexsero) were only deemed as safe and effective by the United States Food and Drug Administration at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.
The risks are tremendous given how rapidly the situation appears to be escalating, and are obviously the highest among the pupils that have been in close proximity or contact with the two freshmen that have fallen ill.
Bacterial meningitis can usually be transmitted relatively easy between people, through droplets of saliva, by kissing, sneezing, coughing, sharing objects (kitchen utensils, cigarettes, glasses etc.) or breathing the same stuffy air (just like it happens in a crowded dorm).
The highly contagious bacteria infection causes inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, and normally manifests itself through symptoms such as migraines, photophobia (sensitivity to light), stiff neck, vomiting, nausea, fever, fatigue, disorientation and skin rashes.
When the infection enters the blood stream, its signs include diarrhea, bleeding under the skin, muscle pain, loss of consciousness and septic shock.
Every year, between 600 and 1,000 US become infected with meningitis, and approximately 1 in 10 of these patients succumb to this dangerous disease, even if they have received treatment.
In addition, around a fifth of the individuals who make it out alive experience complications, such as learning disabilities, hearing loss, brain damage and infections resulting in limb amputations.
Despite this crisis situation unfolding on the Santa Clara campus, it appears that the “Super Community Celebration” scheduled to take place on Saturday, ahead of the Super Bowl, will not be postponed or cancelled.
Apparently, 500 students have already received preemptive treatment following the two meningitis cases, and at the university’s Leavy Center efforts are underway to provide everyone with the immunization they require.
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