Drexel University sophomore Stephanie Ross died on March 10 due to infection by serogroup B meningitis, the same strain of bacterial meningitis responsible for the fall 2013 Princeton University outbreak of the disease, CBS Philly reported.
The University says it is “monitoring the situation closely,” Executive Director of Penn SHS Evelyn Wiener and Penn Director of Campus Health Initiatives Sharon McMullen wrote in an emailed statement in response to questions from The Daily Pennsylvanian.
In case of an outbreak, current Penn protocols call for identifying the population at risk of contraction and notifying administrators and affected individuals of the risk, they wrote. SHS also works with the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Wiener and McMullen also stressed that this single case of meningitis does not constitute an outbreak and is considered an isolated event. This occurrence should not alter students’ activities, as “the CDC does not recommend limiting social interactions or travel,” and “while meningococcal infections are very serious, meningococcus is not particularly contagious,” they wrote.
Meningitis is caused by bacteria that damage the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include stiff neck, fever, headache, vomiting and confusion. The disease is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions such as sharing cups or kissing, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , but not through casual contact.
A week before she exhibited symptoms, Ross was in contact with Princeton students who were visiting Drexel. These students could have been carriers of the disease.
Wiener and McMullen suggested that students should protect themselves by washing hands and avoiding shared cups, utensils or cigarettes, they added.
Penn also requires all students under the age of 21 in campus housing to receive a conjugate vaccine that covers four different strains of the disease, but not serogroup B. No licensed vaccine that protects against this strain of the disease is available in the United States . Princeton offered an unlicensed vaccine to students who lived on campus after the campus outbreak. Drexel provided students who may have been at risk of exposure with prophylactic antibiotics to protect against the infection, the Drexel said in an official media statement.
Penn has also experienced cases of meningitis in its recent history. In 2009, three students were diagnosed with the disease, and a fourth student contracted it several weeks later in an unrelated case.
“Meningococcal infection is relatively rare. About twenty years ago, there were about 5,000 cases per year in the US. That rate has been declining since in late 1990’s, with fewer than 1,000 cases per year,” Wiener and McMullen said in the email. They noted that the number of cases of meningitis on Penn’s campus is not unusual for a school of its size.
In the 2009 case, the school suspended University and student-sponsored social events that would bring students in close contact, especially over food and drinks, for the upcoming weekend. The infected students were thought to have come into contact with each other at a Greek event. SHS offered prophylactic treatment to any student who had attended a Greek event or had extended contact with a person who had attended a Greek event since two weeks prior to the diagnosis of the disease in these three students.