University of Massachusetts Amherst officials say a student on campus has been diagnosed with meningitis weeks after another student fell ill with a related illness and are suggesting students consider an additional vaccination as a precaution.
A student was diagnosed with a meningococcal illness last month that was later determined to be a strain of the disease not covered by the vaccine students must have to attend the school. The second student, who lives in a residence hall, was diagnosed on Sunday with bacterial meningitis.
“It is not known yet whether the first case led to the second case,” University Health Services Executive Director George Corey said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. UMass Amherst is the state’s largest public university and more than three-quarters of its 21,000 undergraduate students are from the state.
Meningococcal disease can lead to meningitis — a potentially deadly infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord — and infections of the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when treated, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 percent of infected people, the center says. Ten to 20 percent of survivors suffer disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage, kidney failure and amputations.
“Meningococcal disease often occurs without warning – even among people who are otherwise healthy,” the center says.
The university said it is reaching out to those close to the student diagnosed this weekend, who is in stable condition at an area hospital. The student diagnosed Oct. 24 is also in stable condition, the university said.
“Because these two students were not in close contact with each other, these two cases raise our level of concern,” Corey said in a statement. “UHS is working in consultation with federal and state public health officials, and will be updating advice as more information becomes available.”
The student diagnosed Oct. 24 has a serogroup B infection, a strain not covered by the meningitis vaccine required for college attendance. That vaccine covers strains A, C, Y and W, the university said.
The serogroup B vaccine is available on campus.
Meningococcal disease spreads via close contact like coughing or kissing or lengthy contact among people living in the same household. The university advised students not to “swap saliva” and to avoid sharing food and drinks, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and wash hands regularly.
“As with all vaccines, protection is not immediate and should be thought of as a wise precaution for this winter and for several years to come,” Corey said in a statement.