Meningococcal vaccinations continue at UMass
Two students are ill with a strain of meningococcal disease called Serogroup B. The vaccine to protect against that infection is relatively new, and students are not required to have it to attend the university. Some 100 students received the Serogroup B vaccine at University Health Services by the end of the day Wednesday.
Rumors of a third case of meningococcal disease swirled around UMass Amherst on Thursday, which the university dispelled in a campuswide email.
"There is no third case of meningitis. If a new case does occur, it would be announced through official channels, such as e-mail to UMass faculty, staff, students and parents and the university's website," University Health Services Executive Director George Corey said in a statement. "It is not unusual for speculation and false reports to surface in the midst public health warnings."
Meningococcal disease, which can occur suddenly in otherwise healthy people, is a potentially deadly infection caused by bacteria. When the infection occurs in the brain or spinal cord, it is called meningitis. The disease kills 10 to 15 percent of infected people, even with medical treatment. The meningitis vaccine required to attend UMass covers strains A, C, Y and W.
The first student was diagnosed with the disease Oct. 24 and another student was diagnosed on Sunday. The infected students were not in close contact, the university said. There are no plans to interrupt classes or housing arrangements, and Corey is not considering the situation an outbreak, according to UMass spokesperson Mary Dettloff.
"He said this is not an outbreak. There are guidelines from the CDC that define this, and right now our two cases cannot be defined as an outbreak," Dettloff said in an email. "It is hard to speculate on if we will see more cases. There are a lot of variables at play."
The situation is being managed by the university, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a number of local public health boards. Both infected students are in stable condition in hospitals, though the student diagnosed last month was initially in critical condition.
"Meningococcus B is not spread through sweat. It is safe to go to the Recreation Center and use the exercise equipment, and to swim in university pools. Do not share water bottles while working out. Meningococcus B is not spread through food or on the surface of washed dishes or eating utensils. Eating in UMass dining facilities is safe. You should avoid sharing utensils, cups or glasses while eating," Corey said in an email to campus. "There is no reason for students or staff to wear masks or gloves. Meningococcus B is spread through saliva. You cannot catch it by breathing air or casual touching."
Dr. Susan Rett, the medical director of the immunization program at DPH, said there have been eight meningococcal cases in Massachusetts so far this year, which is typical. Some 50 to 60 cases occur in the United States every year.
"Everybody's individual risk is very low. It's a rare disease that's hard to transmit and people who have highest risk have been identified and received the antibiotics," Rett said.
Rett praised the university for its communication with students about the situation. She also cheered the university for interviewing and identifying those close to the infected students so they could be treated with antibiotics as a preventative measure.
"We feel we really just couldn't ask for a better partner here. UMass has been outstanding," Rett said.
Corey said in an email that University Health Services has plenty of the Serogroup B vaccine, and encouraged students to consider getting vaccinated over the week-long Thanksgiving break.
The Department of Public Health sent an advisory Thursday to health care providers, hospitals and local boards of health across the state to be on the lookout for possible meningococcal cases.
"Our main message to clinicians is this has happened, be alert for any case that you think might be suspicious for meningococcal disease. Amherst students are leaving for Thanksgiving so they could be anywhere in the state," Rett said.
Not all health care providers stock the Serogroup B vaccine, so the department also sent out information on how to order it from manufacturers. There are two types of the vaccine and each require more than one dose.
As with all vaccines, the Serogroup B vaccine does not take effect immediately, but Rett said the body starts producing antibodies to fight the disease within two weeks. Because it is so new, health care professionals are still learning about the Serogroup B vaccine and how long it lasts.
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