Emergency Guidelines for the Campus Community

Meningitis Information for Admitted Students

Updated February 4, 2015

Between March 2013 and March 2014, nine cases of serogroup B meningococcal disease have been associated with Princeton University. Seven cases involved Princeton University students. One early case involved a prospective student who stayed with undergraduate students in a dormitory for a few days. There have been no cases occurring on campus or affecting Princeton students since November 2013.

Meningitis B is not covered by the vaccine that is required for teenagers in the US. There is no vaccine for meningitis B licensed in the US; however, beginning in December 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowed the University to import a meningitis B vaccine that is licensed in Europe, Australia and Canada, but not in the US (until recently). The vast majority of undergraduate students and most of the graduate students who live in dormitories have received the vaccine.

In March 2014, a student at Drexel University died from meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B bacteria. The CDC investigation revealed the Drexel student had been in close contact with students from Princeton University about a week before becoming ill. The CDC determined that the outbreak strain at Princeton and the strain in the Drexel case match by “genetic fingerprinting.”

Princeton University's meningitis information website contains additional, up-to-date information and links to other resources.

Note to campus visitors from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

We recognize that when cases of meningococcal disease occur, there is increased concern about the potential spread of disease and desire to take appropriate steps to prevent additional cases. There is no evidence that campus visitors are at increased risk of getting meningococcal disease from casual contact with students, faculty, or staff at institutions experiencing outbreaks. Therefore, CDC does not recommend limiting social interactions or canceling travel plans as a preventive measure for meningococcal disease. Instead, we continue to recommend that people remain vigilant to the symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek treatment immediately if they experience any of those symptoms.

With regard to Princeton Preview, the CDC issued this statement about changing it to a one-day program: "We have reviewed the plans for Princeton Preview and support the decision the University has made."

Questions and Answers

- How does meningitis B spread?

Bacterial meningitis is contagious, but generally is transmitted through direct exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by close personal contact, such as sharing drinks, kissing, sharing smoking materials, etc. Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are s contagious as the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. See FAQ-General Information for additional information about the disease.

- What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis could include high fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light. Later in the illness, a rash that looks like purple blotches or spots on the arms, legs and torso may appear. Treatment should be started immediately. Most people with meningitis are hospitalized and treated with antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection, other treatments may also be necessary.

- Can I be exposed to the meningitis B bacteria from close contact with someone who has received the meningitis B vaccine?

The vaccine protects the individual who received it from becoming sick with meningitis B, but individuals who have been vaccinated can still carry the bacteria in their nose and throat. Thus, close contact with a person who has been vaccinated may still be risky.

- How long can someone be a carrier after getting this vaccine?

From the CDC: Since this vaccine is relatively new, we do not have enough data to know what the impact is on carriage. For meningococcal bacteria in general, we are not certain for each person how much time he or she can carry the bacteria.  We do know that carriage is not permanent and generally lasts weeks to months. The length of time may vary by person and with each specific strain of the bacteria. We do not have specific data on the duration of carriage, or what the maximum duration of carriage is, for all strains.

-Could I get the meningitis B vaccine from my doctor?

In October 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a meningitis B vaccine, Trumemba, made by Pfizer. This vaccine requires three doses - intial, second dose after two months, third dose after six months. In January 2015, the FDA approved Bexsero, the meningitis B vaccine by Novartis, used in the Princeton University vaccine clinics. This vaccine requires two doses, spaced at least one month apart.

While both vaccines are approved for individuals ages 10 through 25, medical experts have not yet made recommendations as to whom should receive them. Thus, while all physicians have access to the vaccines, not all will have it in stock.

-Should I avoid attending events on the Princeton campus or visiting the University?

No. The CDC and state health officials have not recommended cancelling or curtailing planned activities on the Princeton campus. Casual contact with Princeton student does not put you at risk for meningitis.

-Can accepted students and visitors stay overnight in dorms?

The act of sleeping in a dormitory for a few days does not in itself put you at risk for meningitis. However, many overnight visitors participate in certain social activities that might put them at greater risk for close contact. For that reason, the University decided not to have an overnight program for Princeton Preview in 2014.

-Should I take antibiotics before going to Princeton University for an event or activity?

No. Per the CDC, there is no recommendation to take antibiotics before attending events or activities at Princeton University. Only people who have been in close contact with a suspect or confirmed case of meningococcal disease need to be considered for preventive treatment.

-Are the cases of meningitis at University of California-Santa Barbara related to the outbreak at Princeton?  How do you know?

No, the cases are not related. While the cases at both the University of California-Santa Barbara and Princeton involve serogroup B meningococcal bacteria, the genetic strains of the bacteria are not the same. 

-How can I find more information?

Additional information about meningitis is available on Princeton University's meningitis website. Accepted students may e-mail questions to response@Princeton.edu. If you would like to speak to someone, please leave your name and phone number.







Last update: 05-Feb-2015 2:43 PM
Web page comments or errors: Robin Izzo.