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UMass Amherst announces meningitis outbreak on campus

The UMass Amherst campus and its historic Old Chapel in 2016. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff, file 2016

The University of Massachusetts Amherst announced Tuesday that there is an outbreak of meningitis on campus after two students were diagnosed with meningococcal disease in October and November.

One student, who lives on campus, tested positive for bacterial meningitis Nov. 12, and another was diagnosed in October with a strain of meningococcal illness not covered by the vaccine students must have to attend the school.

After extensive testing of the two cases, university health services, the state Department of Public Health, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified the cases as an outbreak because they originated from a single strain of genetically identical organisms, the university said in a statement Tuesday. The CDC conducted the testing.


Following the classification, Dr. George A. Corey, the school’s executive director of health services, sent an e-mail to the community recommending that students at high risk receive vaccinations at a series of four walk-in clinics during the next two weeks.

“These further measures to protect the campus community reinforce decisions made by the university to begin vaccinating over the past two weeks,” Corey said in the e-mail.

Students at high risk include all undergraduates, graduate students living in undergraduate housing, and students with other medical conditions. Faculty and staff are not considered to be at high risk unless they have another medical condition.

Meningococcal meningitis, a rare but serious bacterial infection, causes the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease can be fatal or cause great harm without prompt treatment with antibiotics.

The meningococcal B vaccine has been administered to more than 1,400 students so far, the university said. There have been no interruptions to classes because of the outbreak.

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.