While the spread of Ebola has dominated many headlines, a San Diego State University freshman recently died from a deadly strain of bacterial meningitis – making her at least the third college student this year to die from that type-B strain of the disease.
SDSU freshman Sara Stelzer, 18, was taken off life support Saturday after falling ill, and health officials determined she had the type-B strain of meningitis that does not have a vaccine approved for use in America except with special permissions.
More than 860 students visited San Diego State’s Student Health Services over the last five days in the wake of her Stelzer’s death, with more than 400 concerned students receiving antibiotics, according to The Daily Aztec.
Stelzer’s death marks at least the third time this year a college student has died of the type-B strain. In March, a sophomore at Drexel University died from it. Last month, a student at Georgetown University died from Meningitis B strain as well.
And in 2013, outbreaks of that particular strain at Princeton and UC Santa Barbara prompted numerous hospitalizations and mass vaccinations. One UCSB student’s legs were amputated because of the disease.
Ultimately, U.S. health officials allowed a vaccine for that strain to be used to control the spread at Princeton and UCSB.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. has approved vaccines against serogroups C, Y, A and W – but not B. But health officials used a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine licensed for use in Europe and Canada to help control the two outbreaks at college campuses last year.
For the hundreds of students treated recently at the SDSU health center, they were given a 500 mg dose of Ciprofloxacin at their visit, The Daily Aztec reports.
The antibiotic provided does provide short-term protection against serogroup B meningococcal disease, San Diego County health officials told Fox News 5. Moreover, members of Stelzer’s sorority, Kappa Delta, were contacted and given preventative treatment, along with students who were at an Alpha Epsilon Pi party on Oct. 8 or a Delta Sigma Phi party on Oct. 9.
Bacterial meningitis can be spread through kissing and coughing. Side effects include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. Infections are often misdiagnosed because its early symptoms are much like those of the flu, according to the National Meningitis Association.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the best ways to try and avoid getting bacterial meningitis include: washing hands often and vigorously; practice good hygiene – don’t share drinks, foods, straws, eating utensils, lip balms or toothbrushes with anyone else; and cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing.
SDSU Student Health Services director Gregg Lichtenstein told The Daily Aztec that the center did not offer antibiotics to secondary contacts because they are at a low risk for the infection.
“If someone is sitting in a classroom, even next to the person (diagnosed with meningitis), it’s extremely unlikely that (he or she) would contract it,” he said.
“The most difficult thing in terms of the process here is figuring out how we’re going to handle the load,” he added.
The university has hired extra clinical staff to handle the influx of students and now offers a $91 vaccine to reduce future risk for the infection.
Lichtenstein advises those experiencing symptoms of meningitis, such as a high fever, nausea and vomiting, to immediately seek care at an emergency room. He added a few SDSU students were sent to a local emergency room for a secondary assessment, though he has yet to learn if any were diagnosed with meningitis.
College Fix reporter Michael Cipriano is a student at American University.
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