Meningitis B Outbreaks At Three U.S. Colleges

Nov 26, 2018

Credit National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Meningitis B is rare, but it’s potentially fatal and 3 colleges across the country have reported ongoing outbreaks of the disease. 

San Diego State University, Five College Consortium in Massachusetts, and Oregon State University are currently dealing with outbreaks of meningitis B, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. It’s a disease spread through saliva from things like coughing or kissing, and early symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu.

Doug Carlson, the medical director for HSHS St. John’s Children’s hospital in Springfield said college students are at an increased risk of contracting the disease.

“Largely it does tend to be in populations when they’re in close contact," said Carlson. "That’s why we see it in clusters and when we see it in clusters it’s most often in college-age students living in dorms.”

In 2016, Illinois began requiring all students attending college in-state to get a meningitis vaccine. But that only protects against some of the strains. And the vaccine for meningitis B — the source of the current outbreak — is optional.

“Bacterial meningitis is always serious when you get it," said Carlson. "Recognized and treated properly, there can be good survivability, but it is a pretty rapidly debilitating and serious illness.”

The University of Illinois system said it does recommend the vaccination, but does not require it. According to McKinley Health Center Director Robert Parker, the reccomendation “will be made to help our students remain healthy yet have a choice as reflected in the current review by the Advisory Council of Immunization Practice, under our Center for Disease Control.”