UC Berkeley warns of student meningitis case

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Michael Drummond/File

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Local health officials confirmed a single case of meningococcal meningitis in a UC Berkeley student Monday, according to a campuswide email released by the Tang Center on Tuesday.

Tang Center Medical Director Anna Harte and Executive Director Claudia Covello said in the email that the UC Berkeley student has been treated for meningitis and “is now recovering well.” According to University Health Services spokesperson Kim LaPean, the case was identified off-campus, and the student was diagnosed Monday.

“Campus and University Health Services officials are working closely with City of Berkeley Public Health and the State of California’s Department of Public Health to identify people and locations visited, monitor the case, and directly notify the individuals who were in close contact with the student,” Harte and Covello said in their email.

According to Harte and Covello, meningitis is an infection in the linings of the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal meningitis is caused by bacteria and, although rare, can cause death in about 10 to 14 percent of infected people. Among those who recover, up to 19 percent can suffer from a severe aftereffect, such as permanent hearing loss or brain damage.

Meningococcal disease can only be spread by close contact with an infected person’s oral and nasal secretions, such as via kissing or sharing objects including drinking glasses or cigarettes, according to Harte and Covello. The bacteria cannot survive outside of the body for more than a few minutes and so is not easily transmitted through water or contact in a classroom.

In 2001, the city received three reports of suspected meningitis cases among Berkeley residents, including one 9-year-old child who died from the disease. According to the California Department of Public Health, California universities had a meningitis outbreak in November 2013, which resulted in up to four deaths.

LaPean said in an email, however, that she wouldn’t call these cases common. She added that there have been outbreaks on other campuses recently but emphasized that the case identified Monday was not an outbreak.

“We have no additional confirmed cases at this time,” LaPean said in her email. “This is an evolving situation, so we are still asking the campus to stay vigilant and watch for symptoms.”

Harte and Covello said in their email that the Tang Center wanted to warn the campus community about the meningitis case to raise awareness of the symptoms, especially in light of the upcoming spring break. Meningitis symptoms include fever, severe headache, rash, nausea and increased sensitivity to light.

“Though the chances of the bacteria being spread are low, people should be aware of potential symptoms and take proactive steps if necessary,” Harte and Covello said in their email. “Since the disease may progress rapidly, people are urged to seek medical advice immediately if they experience two or more of these symptoms concurrently.”

The confirmed student’s case was caused by meningococcus group B, a strain that is not covered by the meningitis vaccine that is required for incoming UC Berkeley students, according to Harte and Covello.

University Health Services will be organizing special drop-in hours Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Tang Center for students aged 25 and under who would like to receive the meningitis B vaccine. UC Berkeley Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, will cover the vaccine. The vaccine is not used for treatment following exposure, but it can protect against future infection.

Harte and Covello encouraged students to contact the UHS Advice Nurse at 510-642-1814 during business hours or 510-643-7197 after hours to help determine whether they require additional care. They added that if symptoms are severe, students should seek medical assistance immediately.

Chantelle Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.

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  • The Meningitis Foundation of America offers extensive information regarding diagnosis, immunization, recovery and the after effects of meningitis. ***MFA survives entirely by donations.*** Since 1997 we have assisted people through resources and advocacy in efforts to help those affected with meningitis overcome and those around them understand the journey ahead. We promote prevention and safety measure in at risk communities and help explain the short term, long term effects and recovery treatments of meningitis to the media and public at large. Meningitis is a dangerous & often times fatal infection that can lead to serious life-long physical problems and even death. Every life is worth vaccinating. We are here to provide emotional support to those who need it; please feel free to reach out to us at http://www.musa.org.
    Caroline L. Petrie
    National Secretary
    Meningitis Foundation of America, Inc.
    World Meningitis Day 24 April
    Be Proactive & Educate~Vaccinate~Eradicate