Unapproved Foreign Vaccine May Be Used to Combat Ivy League Meningitis Outbreak

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Following a meningitis outbreak that has hospitalized seven people so far this year, Princeton University may begin using a vaccine not yet approved in the U.S. to inoculate its student body against the disease, which kills approximately 10% of people infected.

The strain affecting students at the Ivy League school – meningococcus serogroup B – is not covered by the current U.S.-approved meningitis vaccine recommended for all college students. Consequently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have authorized that another vaccine, Bexsero, which was recently approved for use in Europe and Australia, be imported for use at the famous New Jersey institution. School officials will be deciding as soon as this week whether to begin a campaign to vaccinate Princeton’s approximately 7,800 students. Officials said vaccination would be voluntary and would potentially begin within the next couple months.

The Princeton outbreak started in March when a female student returned from spring break with symptoms of the disease, which commonly causes stiff neck, high fever, light sensitivity, severe headache, vomiting and confusion. Six others have been affected since then – most recently a male student who was diagnosed last week, eight months after the initial case. Fortunately, none of the infected people have died.

Meningitis is caused by bacterial or viral infections that result in inflammation of the thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord. It is spread through close contact with respiratory or throat secretions, making activities like kissing and sharing drinks or utensils high-risk. Some people may carry and spread the disease without exhibiting symptoms. Meningitis kills up to 10% of people within 48 hours after symptom onset, and brain damage, hearing loss or other neurological deficits may persist in up to 20% of survivors.

The school has sought to spread awareness of the disease on campus by posting bright posters encouraging students not to share drinks and to avoid kissing. The school also distributed nearly 5,000 red plastic cups emblazoned with the words “Mine. Not Yours.”