UMass Meningitis Outbreak Prompts Concern
Issue   |   Tue, 12/05/2017 - 19:03
Photo courtesy of Sarah Wishloff ’19
Two cases of meningitis were reported at UMass Amherst on Nov. 16. Amherst Health Services is strongly recommending that Amherst students who spend substantial time at UMass receive the specific vaccine for this outbreak.

An outbreak of meningitis was reported on Nov. 16 at UMass Amherst. Two students were confirmed to have been diagnosed with meningococcal disease in October and November.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were involved in conducting the testing of the two students. The situation has been classified an outbreak because the two students infected contracted the same strain of serogroup B meningitis. No reported cases of meningococcal disease have been suspected or identified on Amherst’s campus.

The classification of an outbreak means there is increased risk of contracting the disease both on- and off-campus. UMass has recommended the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine for all of its undergraduate students. Likewise, Amherst College Health Services has strongly recommended the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine for all Amherst College students who take classes or spend considerable time at UMass. The meningococcal vaccine required of all students before entering Amherst does not protect against this particular strain of meningitis.

Over the past few weeks, the meningococcal B vaccine has been administered by appointment to more than 1,400 students at large walk-in clinics at UMass. The Amherst College Health Center has also been administering the vaccine, which involves two doses administered at least one month apart, to Amherst College students. Amherst’s health insurance covers the cost of the vaccine and no student will be denied the vaccine due to inability to pay.

Amherst Health Services is offering small clinics this week by appointment for students who want to be vaccinated. A list of dates and times is available on the Health Services website. Vaccines are also available at most nearby pharmacies.

Meningococcal meningitis refers to the infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. According to the CDC website, it takes close or lengthy contact, like coughing or kissing, to spread the bacteria. The disease is also not as contagious as the germs that cause the common cold or the flu. People cannot catch the disease through casual contact or by simply breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been.

Given that the disease is not as contagious as the flu or cold, classes have not been interrupted at UMass, and the campus will maintain regular operations. There are currently no recommended restrictions for Amherst students attending classes at UMass.

Director of Student Health Services Emily Jones referred The Student to the Amherst website for information related to the outbreak. The site advises students to take health-smart precautions.

“Don’t swap saliva,” the webpage read. “Avoid sharing food, drinks and personal items that contact saliva, including drinks from punch bowls. Wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth — germs spread easily this way.”