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Update on Meningitis Outbreak

Barnard College is closely monitoring the events which are occurring at Princeton University in regard to the recent cases of Meningitis.  We have been in close communication with various college health administrators in the New York City area as well The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  We will continue to work closely with them to ensure the health and safety of our community.  At this time there is no specific risk to Barnard students associated with the Princeton University outbreak.

There are currently no known cases of meningococcal disease among Barnard students.

Please see below some facts and information in regard to Meningitis and how to protect yourself.

What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a severe infection of the blood or the meninges. When the infection is in the blood, it is called meningococcemia. When the infection is in the meninges, it is called meningococcal meningitis. Both of these infections are caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterium has at least 13 different serogroups (types). Five of these serogroups, A, B, C, Y, and W-135, cause almost all invasive disease.

What are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis?

Early symptoms of meningococcal disease may include sudden onset of fever, headache, body aches and feeling very tired or sleepy. Other symptoms that have been commonly seen are stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, sensitivity to light, and rash.

How is meningococcal meningitis transmitted?

Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit and situations where there is close, lengthy contact:

·         Kissing

·         Sharing utensils, food or drinks

·         Sharing cigarettes

·         Uncovered face-to-face coughing or sneezing

Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as what causes the common cold or the flu. Also, the bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.                                                                                                

Is there a vaccine for meningococcal disease?

Yes. Vaccination offers the best protection against the disease, but the available vaccine licensed for use in the United States does not protect against all serogroups (strains) of the bacteria. The vaccines used in the US cover serogroups A, C, Y, an W-135. The strain causing the current outbreak at Princeton is serogroup B. While the vaccines available in the US do not protect against serogroup B, we strongly encourage students to protect themselves against the other serogroups in order to protect themselves from the four serogroups covered by the vaccine.

How else can meningococcal disease be prevented?

·         Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

·         Cleaning your hands.

·         Practice healthy habits. Avoid sharing utensils, water bottles or other items contaminated by saliva or respiratory secretions. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of rest.

How can I find out more information?

At Barnard, all incoming undergraduate students are required to show proof of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis. If you are not sure if you have received the vaccine or would like to verify that you have, please call our Primary Care Health Service at (212) 854-2091.

Any student interested in getting the meningitis vaccine (A, C, Y, W-135) should contact Primary Care Health Service at (212) 854-2091 to schedule an appointment.

Additional Resources:

·         Meningitis - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

·         Bacterial Meningitis - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

·         Meningococcal Meningitis - NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene