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Second UMass student diagnosed with bacterial meningitis

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) campus Courtesy photo

  • Ann Becker, public health nurse at UMass Amherst, speaks Tuesday at a press conference on campus regarding two students recently diagnosed with meningitis. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • George Corey, director of university health services at UMass Amherst, left, and Ann Becker, public health nurse at the campus, speak Nov. 14, 2017 at a press conference regarding two students recently diagnosed with meningitis. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • George Corey, director of university health services at UMass Amherst, speaks Nov. 14, 2017 at a press conference on campus regarding two students recently diagnosed with meningitis. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • George Corey, director of university health services at UMass Amherst, speaks Nov. 14, 2017 at a press conference on campus regarding two students recently diagnosed with meningitis. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@ecutts_HG
Thursday, November 16, 2017

AMHERST — A second student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, three weeks after an initial case was discovered, the university announced Tuesday.

The student who recently became ill lives in a residence hall on campus, and is in stable condition at an area hospital, according to a statement from University Health Services. The strain of the student’s case has not yet been determined.

An earlier case involving another student with meningococcal disease, announced Oct. 24, was later confirmed as a serogroup B infection. The student was for a time listed in serious and then critical condition. The university announced Tuesday that student’s condition is now stable.

The two students were not in close contact with each other, which raises the level of concern for the university, according to the statement by Dr. George A. Corey, executive director of University Health Services.

“UHS is reaching out to people who may have been in close contact with the student and have the most significant risk of infection,” Corey wrote. “They are being provided safe and effective antibiotics that can reduce the possibility of infection.”

Around 40 students have been given the prophylactic antibiotic as a precautionary measure, said UMass public health nurse Ann Becker at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The second infected student, Becker said, became ill on Sunday, and Becker was able to interview the student.

“I was able to find out what activities they had been involved in — no parties and no big group activities,” Becker said. “The student was not active over the weekend, thankfully.”

According to Corey, the Centers for Disease Control has a detailed protocol for responding to bacterial meningitis cases, and university officials have been working to identify “close contacts” of the ill student.

“A close contact would be defined as an intimate partner, a kissing partner, a roommate strictly living in the same room, or an individual that you’re aware you’ve shared an article that goes in the mouth, and that could be something that you smoke or something that you drink, and close proximity,” Corey said.

According to Becker, university officials hope to know within the next couple of days if the second case is of the serogroup B strain as well, and will inform the campus community if it is.

For now, the university is operating under the assumption that the serogroup B strain caused both illnesses, a more serious situation than if the strains turn out to be different.

“If it proves not to be the same one, we can conclusively say” that the two cases are unrelated, Corey said.

“They weren’t roommates or close friends, so that raises the concern a little more for us, but it is a rare disease, so we’re not thinking we will have a huge outbreak. We just want everyone to be alert,” Becker said.

Students are required to receive the meningitis vaccine before attending college but the vaccine covers strains A, C, Y and W.

The vaccine that covers serogroup B is not required, but University Health Services is currently prepared to administer it to anyone on campus who wishes to be immunized.

“Vaccines are a future risk reduction, and a vaccine will take a while to take effect. This vaccine requires at least two doses one month apart,” Corey said.

Dr. Susan M. Lett, who serves as medical director of the state’s Immunization Program, said every case of meningitis in the commonwealth is taken seriously.

“Every case is concerning because it is such a serious disease,” Lett said.

Overall, the amount of cases of invasive meningococcal disease in the state has been declining. Approximately six to eight cases were reported this year, according to Lett and state epidemiologist Steve Fleming.

The bacteria which causes the illness, Neisseria meningitidis, can exist in the nasopharynx of anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the population, but usually don’t cause any illness; a weakened immune system will “trigger” the vaccine-preventable illness in some people, Becker told the Gazette last month.

Parents and students should understand that this is a rare disease, Lett said.

“It’s hard to transmit,” she said. “It’s not like influenza. It really requires close contact and sharing saliva.”

Lett and the University’s Health Services are advising the campus community to take health smart precautions — don’t swap saliva; avoid sharing food, drinks and other personal items that contact saliva; wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer; cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.

Lett also encourages those to be aware of the symptoms which include headaches, stiff neck, nausea, fever, or a rash.

“These are the things we want people to be really aware of,” Lett said. “Seek treatment and evaluation sooner rather later.”