November 18, 2013

Princeton awaits word on meningitis vaccine amid 7th case

The CDC requested and received permission last week from the FDA to import the vaccine, a necessary protocol since the treatment hasn’t been approved in the U.S.

By Janet Lorin, Randolph Brown And Michelle Fay Cortez
Bloomberg News

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Princeton will send additional notices to students and parents as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches later this month.

“The university continues to provide reminders and additional information on campus via posters and table tents in common areas, and through athletic teams and student groups,” Mbugua said.

Other colleges in New Jersey are watching the Princeton situation, including Seton Hall University in South Orange, said Laurie Pine, a spokeswoman.

No cases have been reported at Seton Hall nor on the campuses of Rider University in Lawrenceville, near Princeton, said John Lenox, a Rider spokesoman.

“We are working with local health authorities to monitor the situation closely,” Lenox said in an e-mail. “We have taken the precaution of putting our student health services on alert and have informed our students of the basic infection prevention activities they can take.”

While the Princeton cases have been contained to illness, meningitis has turned deadly on college campuses. In 1995, at least three students, two in college and one in high school, died in Pennsylvania from meningococcal meningitis.

After one of the deaths, at Villanova University, the school provided free doses of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, and more than 1,000 students took it, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Meningitis can be caused by viruses, fungi and bacteria, with bacterial meningitis causing about 170,000 deaths globally each year, according to the World Health Organization. The infection is marked by inflammation surrounding the thin lining around the brain and spinal cord, causing such symptoms as stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. As many as 10 percent of those infected die within 48 hours after symptoms start, according to the WHO. Brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities may affect as many as 20 percent of survivors, the Geneva-based agency said on its website.

Novartis’s Bexsero is the first vaccine against the meningococcus B strain of the bacteria, which accounts for 40 percent of cases in the U.S. and as much as 80 percent in Australia and parts of Europe. The vaccine was cleared for sale in Europe last January and in Australia last August.

“We are coordinating with Princeton University, the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health to address this public health threat,” Novartis spokeswoman Julie Masow said in an e- mail Nov. 16.

Novartis, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Plc all make shots available in Europe and the U.S. that protect against four of the five major strains of the disease, not including the B strain that is circulating at Princeton. The other strains are A, C, Y and W-135. Pfizer Inc., the New York-based drugmaker, has a vaccine for meningitis B that has begun the final stage of development. The company has said it will share data from a phase II trial of the vaccine next year.

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