Two first year students fall ill with dangerous sickness, hospitalized
THE SANTA CLARA
February 4, 2016
In a chilling turn of events, two Santa Clara students have tested positive for meningococcal meningitis after being hospitalized on Sunday and Monday. Both individuals are first year males that live in Swig Residence Hall, and are pledging the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the students and families that are affected. We are very concerned about student welfare,” said University President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., at a press conference on Wednesday. “I have been to the hospital to visit the student and visit the family of the first student that was affected.”
The first victim was hospitalized on Sunday morning after developing flu-like symptoms on Saturday. According to Connor Powell, president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, Iota Omicron chapter, the second student was diagnosed with meningitis after being evaluated at the hospital for early signs of the illness.
“They caught it a lot sooner,” Powell said. “We told everyone in our fraternity the gravity of the situation and suggested that they get the antibiotic and to go to the hospital if they had any of the symptoms.”
The student hospitalized on Sunday is confirmed to be ill with meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the protective tissue lining the brain and spinal cord, while the student hospitalized on Monday was diagnosed with meningococcemia, a bloodstream infection.
Powell said he is strongly urging all Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members, pledges, and any individuals who attended their events in the past ten days to take preventative antibiotics and to get the vaccination. Both ill students attended an event the fraternity hosted on Friday night.
So far, the Cowell Center has “met with approximately 500 students” to assess their risk for possible infection, according to Jillandra Rovaris, director of the Cowell Center. However, she did not disclose how many students received preventative antibiotics. Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, a stiff neck and a severe headache, and may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and mental confusion.
According to Sara Cody, County Health Officer for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, the laboratory results confirming the diagnoses came back late Tuesday afternoon.
The student hospitalized on Sunday was confirmed to be sick with the serogroup B strain of meningococcal bacteria. Due to print deadlines, The Santa Clara could not include the laboratory results confirming whether or not the second student was also ill with the group B bacteria.
Cody said that many students have already received a vaccine that protects against four types of meningitis that cause “serious infection,” but does not protect against the serogroup B bacteria with which the first student is infected.
However, there are two new vaccines that do protect against the bacteria that were FDA approved in 2014 and 2015. In partnership with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, Santa Clara will be offering free vaccinations to help protect against serogroup B meningococcal bacteria to the student population in the Leavey Center on Feb. 4 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Feb 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity held a candlelit vigil on Monday evening, where they said prayers and had a moment of silence for the student hospitalized on Sunday.
“The vigil was a great opportunity for the fraternity to gather and be together as we continue to have him at the forefront of our thoughts,” Powell said. “We continue to send prayers and love to him and his family.”
Powell said that fraternity members learned of the second student’s hospitalization after the vigil.
Meningococcal meningitis is contagious but is only spread by close and prolonged contact, like kissing or being coughed on. People who live in the same household as a person with meningitis may have an increased risk of infection.
The bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis can only live outside of the body for a few minutes and are not spread by casual contact or by breathing the same air as a person with the illness.
The bacteria that cause meningitis typically live in back of the nose and throat, as well as in the bowels and the vagina.
“At any one time, up to 10 percent of adolescents and adults can carry this bacteria with no symptoms at all,” Cody said.
The scientific community is unsure as to why the bacteria causes infection in some but stays dormant in others.
“The honest truth is that we don’t have an absolutely crystal clear idea as to why a very small number of people who carry it end up getting the invasive infection, but we do know of some risk factors,” Cody said. “For example, smoking disrupts the lining of your respiratory tract and makes you more susceptible to getting an invasive infection.”
Despite this health scare, thousands of Super Bowl Fans are expected to descend upon campus to attend the Santa Clara Super Community Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 6 to sample grub from food trucks, view a celebrity football game and rock out to a Huey Lewis and the News performance.
However, Rovaris said that campus visitors are safe to come to campus to enjoy the festivities.
“The event is going to be a community event but given the preparations and protections we have in place, which are the preventive antibiotics offered for close contacts, there’s going to be fewer people who are going to be carriers,” Rovaris said. “We don’t see a risk for any reason for the students to change their plans.”
According to Cody, this is the first cluster outbreak of meningococcal meningitis on a California college campus this calendar year.
There have been clusters of meningococcal B on several college campuses over the past few years, since earlier vaccines did not protect people against the bacteria.
Cody said that college campuses are at an increased risk for the spread of meningitis since people tend to congregate and socialize in large groups.
“We don’t know whether there will be any additional cases or not but our job is to catch them as soon as they can to ensure that they get rapid treatment,” Cody said.
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4894.