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Death at Drexel heightens meningitis concerns

Officials determined the student contracted the disease while at Princeton.

The death of a freshman at Drexel from a rare form of meningitis earlier this month was the latest instance of the disease at Philadelphia-area colleges this school year, heightening concerns about the spread of the disease.

Senior Administrator of Temple University School of Medicine Mark Denys recommended that Temple students receive a meningococcal disease vaccination, which can be received at the Student Health Services for $85.

Pennsylvania law dictates that students attending an institution of higher education and residing in a dormitory must receive a vaccine, or provide a waiver declining the vaccination for religious or medical reasons. Although the university is not required to pay for the vaccination, valid information must be provided to students.

“It’s the best way to prevent the meningitis from spreading, by getting vaccinated,” Denys said.

Denys said 21 percent of Temple students signed the waiver declining the meningitis vaccine this year.  In the past three years, there has been one student at Temple infected with the disease.

No students have received the vaccine at Temple since March 1, Denys said.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office confirmed bacterial meningitis as the cause of death for Drexel sophomore Stephanie Ross on March 10. Ross was a mechanical engineering major and a member of the Phi Mu sorority.

The strain found in Ross was discovered to be an extremely rare strain of meningitis, known as serogroup B meningococcal disease, which current U.S. vaccines do not protect against. This same strain was found to have infected eight Princeton University students last fall.

After it was reported that Ross had close contact with Princeton students a week before her death, officials at the Ivy League school canceled overnight stays for admitted students during the annual “Princeton Preview,” opting to house students at hotels in Philadelphia and Newark, N.J., according to a report by The Daily Princetonian.

A vaccine against the serogroup B strain that is licensed in Europe, Australia and Canada has been approved for use at Princeton by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Earlier this month, a junior ROTC student at Widener University was diagnosed with viral meningitis, a less severe strain of the disease that patients can typically recover from on their own, according to the CDCP.

According to the CDCP, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the meninges, the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. There are five types of meningitis: bacterial, viral, parasitic, fungal and noninfectious.

The CDCP said the “incubation period” of meningococcal disease is three to four days, but can last from two to 10 days. The most common symptoms of meningitis are high fever, chills, headache, lethargy and neck stiffness. The disease progresses quickly, and in extreme cases shock, coma or death can occur despite receiving medical treatment.

About 10-15 percent of people diagnosed with a meningococcal disease die even if they receive the proper treatment, and some who recover from the disease experience negative effects such as brain damage and hearing loss.

Drexel student and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Thomas Perkins said Ross’ passing created a sense of unity among the Drexel community as well as Greek life.

“I think that the loss brought the Greek community a lot closer,” Perkins said. “All of the Greek organizations contributed to Phi Mu by preparing dinners for finals week. The loss really affected everyone, and seeing the way everyone came together made me proud to be a part of Drexel’s Greek life.”

Perkins said he received the treatment that Drexel provided, and was also vaccinated before he arrived at school.

According to the National Meningitis Association, meningitis infects approximately 1,500 Americans each year, and while anyone can contract the disease, people living in close quarters to one another, such as college freshman, are more at risk.

Denys said students can take precaution against meningitis by receiving the vaccine, washing their hands, not sharing cups or utensils and not smoking.

Logan Beck can be reached at logan.beck@temple.edu.

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