Princeton Plans to Issue Meningitis B Vaccine to Students, Faculty

The vaccine used to treat this strain is not currently licensed for use in the United States.

Juan Meza, a waiter in a West Hollywood restaurant, gets a free vaccine against bacterial meningitis at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in West Hollywood, Calif., Monday, April 15, 2013.
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After seven students at Princeton University contracted a form of meningitis since March, the university announced Monday it plans to issue the vaccine to all students.

According to an announcement on the university's website, the first case was reported in March and the most recent case was reported Nov. 10. The New Jersey Department of Health requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate the outbreak, concluding all of the cases were related to a strain of the bacteria known as serogroup B.

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"Pending final CDC approval, the University is prepared to accept these recommendations and make arrangements to provide access to this vaccine as soon as possible," the university said in a statement.

The university is planning to distribute the vaccine to students – both those who live on and off campus – as well as members of the university community who have sickle cell disease or certain other conditions. The vaccines would be made available as soon as possible, likely in early December, and the university plans to cover the cost for all students who receive a dose. The university also said it expects to make a second dose available in February.

The vaccine the CDC plans to recommend is currently allowed in Europe and Australia, but has not been licensed for use in the United States because it is less common.

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"The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration would allow the use of this vaccine for this particular situation at Princeton," says a statement on the university's website.

Although there are fewer than 1,000 reported cases of meningitis each year, the bacteria can cause serious infections in the lining around the brain and spinal cord, resulting in vomiting, a sore neck, headaches and fever, according to the CDC. It is most easily spread through person-to-person contact, such as through kissing or prolonged contact, and can also be spread by coughing. College freshmen living in dormitories are at a higher risk than others, and transmission of the disease usually peaks in December and January, according to the CDC.

"I'm honestly not too worried," Paul Przytycki, a 23-year-old graduate student from Bethesda, Md., told The Associated Press. "When the vaccines come in, I'm going to get vaccinated just to be safe, but no one I know has been affected, so it's not too scary yet."

But according to the university, individuals can still contract meningitis without being in contact with someone who is sick.

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Still, the New Jersey Department of Health is not recommending that the university cancel any classes or activities, or that it restrict access to the campus, stating that sporadic cases of the disease "are not unusual on residential campuses."

"Restricting travel to areas with an outbreak, closing schools or universities, or cancelling sporting or social events are not recommended measures for outbreak control in the United States," the department said in a statement. "A crucial part of managing suspected meningococcal disease outbreaks and promoting early case recognition is educating communities, physicians and other healthcare workers about meningococcal disease."

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