WVU students given treatment to prevent meningitis

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – More than 30 West Virginia University students have received antibiotic treatment to protect them from developing meningitis.  The students were determined to be at risk by WVU Student Health Services following the illness and subsequent death of a 19-year-old female student here from suspected bacterial meningitis.

Federal privacy laws prohibit the release of information about patients, including their names or details of their treatments.

Student Health officials have conducted interviews and education sessions with relatives, friends and roommates of the student to develop an extensive list of all who might have been exposed.

“We have been able to conduct the surveillance to identify all those who may have had significant contact, and we are confident that we have reached this targeted population,” said Jan Palmer, M.D., director of Student Health at WVU.

“We understand that students and parents have fears about this, so we are doing all we can to educate them about the risks.  It is important for students to understand that just being in a car or in a classroom with someone is not enough exposure to transmit the disease,” he explained. “Bacterial meningitis is not passed on in hallways or in a typical classroom setting. It’s spread primarily through sharing saliva, as in smoking the same cigarettes or eating or drinking from the same utensils or glasses. Direct continuous contact of four hours or more is also considered to be a risk factor.”

Dr. Palmer said that no new cases have been reported. “But if anyone is experiencing stiff neck, headache, fever, vomiting and sore throat they should seek medical attention immediately.”

The diagnosis of bacterial meningitis in the 19-year-old student has not been confirmed by lab results. However, Palmer said, it’s common and best public health practice to respond to the worst-case scenario whenever there’s a suspected case and provide the antibiotic treatment. 

Most forms of bacterial meningitis are considered preventable through a $90 vaccine. Incoming freshmen to WVU have been required to have the vaccine since 2006.
Palmer and other medical staff from Student Health are planning to speak at an open forum about meningitis in the Mountain Room at the Mountainlair on the WVU campus Thursday at 7 p.m.

Anyone with questions can call Student Health at 304-293-2311.






For more information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
Ab/aj: 3-4-09

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