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Worried About Meningitis? Better Take a Shot



Student Health Services Currently Offers New Meningitis Vaccinations to Students on Campus

In response to last quarter’s meningitis surfacing, Student Health Services is now offering a not yet licensed vaccine against the potentially fatal bacterial disease, providing students with shots between now until next Friday, March 7, in the Multi-Activity Court of the UCSB Recreation Center.

Despite pending approval for the general United States, the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine — known as Bexsero — has been approved for use at UCSB and Princeton University by the Food and Drug Administration and has already been licensed for use in Europe, Canada and Australia. The temporary clinic is now administering the first shot of a two-stage vaccination, with the vaccination’s second shot being offered at least another month from now, although these dates have not yet been set. Meningitis took hold of campus last fall, when four cases appeared and one of them — the case of freshman lacrosse player Aaron Loy — resulted in his foot being amputated due to complications from the disease. University administrators and health officials are urging students to get the new vaccine — even though no new cases have been reported as of December 2013 — because the disease can surface for months at a time.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Debbie Fleming said that although students may not view the vaccine with the same sense of urgency as in November, the severity of the disease makes it necessary that students take every precaution.

“We could see more cases of meningitis,” Fleming said. “Sometimes, there are months in between case, so this is really an opportunity for students to come get a vaccine that they would have no access to otherwise.”

Fleming also said the clinic currently has pretty small lines, so getting the vaccine should take no more than 25 minutes — a small amount of time which she said may grow as more students decide to get the shot.

“The more students here who take advantage of this, the safer our community will be,” Fleming said. “I would hate for us to get to next Thursday and have lines out the door and have to turn anybody away.”

Dr. Mary Ferris, executive director of UCSB Student Health Service, said the clinic prepared to vaccinate thousands of students each day, noting that vaccine manufacturer Novartis has offered UCSB as much vaccine as is needed. However, she said students are only coming out by the hundreds; nevertheless, she said she is happy with the turnout and is trying to communicate to students that it is most helpful for everyone to have the vaccine.

“It’s a public health effort: it’s for their own good, but it’s for everyone else’s good too,” Ferris said.

Ferris said that while some years bring terrible flu strains that are responded to with shots, she has never seen anything like this in her seven years at UCSB.

“It’s a serious disease outbreak, and we have this new vaccine that has never been available before,” Ferris said. “We’ve never had anything this serious, this drastic.”

Lucy Breakwell, an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Center for Disease Control who was on hand at the clinic on Tuesday, said administering vaccinations has gone smoothly considering the amount of coordination between public health officials and university staff.

“Within the clinic, it has been a fantastic vibe,” Breakwell said. “Everyone has had a great experience coming through; we’ve had really good, positive feedback from the students and from CDC’s perspective. We’ve been really impressed with the way UCSB’s staff has pulled this together.”

Although both the meningitis outbreak at Princeton and the one here at UCSB are both serogroup B, Breakwell made clear that they are from different strains. Furthermore, Breakwell said that even though officials do not exactly know how the disease was spread, it is likely that many people were infected without showing symptoms.

“To have four cases that means a whole load of people must’ve been carrying it asymptomatically before those four people showed invasive disease,” Breakwell said. “The real risk factor is living in dorm style housing. We see a 23 fold higher increase risk of students who live in residence halls.”

Breakwell added that even though no new cases have come up since last quarter, students should still get a vaccination to address the risk of unknowingly spreading the disease.

“I think you’ve got to remember that this is a really deadly disease, one in four people who catch it have risk of dying or come away with really serious consequences such as hearing loss, brain damage, amputations,” Breakwell said. “You had four cases in November, which is really unusual. The possibility of another case happening is still really relevant.”

Despite rumors of some students at Princeton feeling minor side effects after the second vaccination, Fleming said students have little to fear about receiving the vaccine.

“I think there’s a little bit of trepidation about people misunderstanding that this is somehow experimental, or not understanding that investigational just means that, right now, there is no approval in the United State,” Fleming said. “But it’s being used safely in all these other countries, and so there’s nothing experimental about this at all … it’s very safe, it’s very effective, and, other than a little bit of a sore arm, we haven’t seen any side effects at all.”

No new cases of meningitis have been reported recently, but Student Health Services still recommends receiving the vaccine.

No new cases of meningitis have been reported recently, but Student Health Services still recommends receiving the vaccine.

Photo courtesy of UCSB News and Media Relations

A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Wednesday, February 26, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

 

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4 Responses to Worried About Meningitis? Better Take a Shot

  1. Cristina Lete, MD Reply

    February 26, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Andrea Robinson died of meningitis serogroup B in February 2010. She was an 18-year-old freshman at Ohio University where a serogroup B meningococcal outbreak persisted over 3 academic years, causing illness in 13 students from January 2008 to November 2010.

    From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
    “Robinson was a bright student who loved animals and frequently spoke of her goal to become a veterinarian, said John Yurkschatt, Robinson’s academic adviser in OU’s University College.”

    In 2010, no broadly effective vaccine existed to combat this disease. Today, one does. If you are an undergraduate at UCSB, you just need to show up at one of the vaccine clinics and get protected for free.

    Just because there haven’t been any new cases since November does not mean that the threat is gone. In the Princeton University outbreak, there was a 3 month lull between the 5th and 6th cases, and they went on to have 2 more after that.

    The specific strain at UCSB, ST-32, was the causative strain that caused an outbreak in Oregon that persisted throughout the 1990′s, and which continues to cause increased rates of meningitis B in Oregon in comparison to the rest of the U.S. to the present day.

    If you are an undergraduate at UCSB, you are so very fortunate to have this chance, one that Andrea and her fellow students did not have back in 2008-2010, to be vaccinated with a safe and effective vaccine.

    Andrea Robinson was a high school junior when the outbreak at Ohio University began. She died in February 2010, WHEN THE OUTBREAK WAS IN ITS THIRD YEAR.

    This is why it’s so important that UCSB students actually bother to get the vaccine…it’s not only crucial for protection of the vaccinated current students. If the reservoir of this meningitis strain isn’t quashed by a successful vaccination campaign, this outbreak could continue into the next academic year, making next year’s freshman class particularly vulnerable, as the FDA may not extend approval to these new incoming students. Even the students who won’t arrive on campus for another 2 years could be vulnerable, as Andrea was.

    Get vaccinated. Do it to protect yourself, and do it to protect your friends. Do it to protect your younger friends, and your younger brothers and sisters who may be excitedly matriculating at UCSB this fall, or even next fall.

    Just do it. The life you save may be your own. Or it may be one you haven’t even met.

  2. Cristina Lete, MD Reply

    February 26, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Cristina Lete, MD
    February 20, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Dear Dr. Ferris,

    I was disturbed to read the recent article in the Santa Barbara Independent which seems to indicate that much of the student body is unaware of the urgency of receiving the meningitis B vaccine:

    http://www.independent.com/news/2014/feb/20/meningitis-vaccine-clinic-starts-monday-ucsb/?on

    I reviewed with interest the posters UCSB has produced. I was dismayed at the utter lack of education regarding the question of ”Why get the vaccine now, since there haven’t been any cases since November?” The only reason given is that “the CDC recommends…”

    Why does the CDC recommend?

    • Meningitis B disease is swift and often deadly, sometimes killing within hours of symptom onset. Even with the best medical care, 10-15% die and 20% of survivors suffer permanent damage.

    •Months can elapse between cases during meningitis B outbreaks, which can persist over years.

    •18 year old freshman Andrea Robinson in fact did die of meningitis B in the 3rd year of an outbreak at Ohio University which sickened an additional 12 students.

    •At Princeton University, there was a 3 month lull followed by 2 more cases.

    • The ST-32 strain of MenB identified at UCSB is the same strain that caused an outbreak in Oregon that lasted many years in the 1990′s and continues to cause Oregon to have double the rate of meningitis as compared to the rest of the U.S. even today.

    • CDC estimates the risk of more cases at the UCSB campus to be 50%.

    I heard some of the recent briefing you gave along with Debbie Fleming, in which you discuss the Ohio University outbreak, and you also quote the CDC’s 50% estimate for more cases at UCSB. So I know you are aware of at least some of the compelling reasons behind CDC’s recommendation.

    It seems to me that you have kept these compelling reasons to yourself, only recently speaking about them. Hard as I try, I can’t find evidence that you have disseminated this information in written mass communications to the UCSB community.

    Students and their families cannot make an informed decision about vaccination without knowing what’s at stake. Failure on the part of the University, Health Department, and CDC to achieve high levels of vaccination at UCSB could lead to a resurgence of cases, and the next one could be fatal.

    I urge you to make sure that all the undergraduates and their families receive a real answer to the question of “why vaccinate?”

    Sincerely,

    Cristina Lete, MD

  3. Cristina Lete, MD Reply

    February 26, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Shameful.

    Mary Ferris should not be “happy” with this anemic turnout. She has not tried to communicate to the students or their families the need for this vaccine nearly as hard as she worked to placate the community in November and December, when she kept insisting that the vaccine was unnecessary.

    Nine emails went out to the UCSB community from Dr. Ferris between November 18 & January 31. No mention at all about the Bexsero vaccine until December 9, at which time she said that “the risk to the campus community is low” and parroted the canned phrase fed to her by the CDC: “CDC will work to make the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine available at UCSB if the circumstances of this outbreak warrant its use.”

    The email sent to families on January 31 announcing the dates for the vaccine clinic states, ” The campus has not had any additional cases of meningitis since late November, however, the CDC is recommending the vaccine to help protect the community against meningococcal disease.”

    Weak. No explanation given for the 180 degree turnabout. The tone of the email almost seems like she’s annoyed about the vaccination program.

    The subsequent “effort” to advertise the vaccine campaign has been equally weak. The posters created by UCSB Health Services utterly fail to answer the crucial question of “Why get the vaccine now, since there haven’t been any cases since November?” The only reason given is that “the CDC recommends…”

    Why does the CDC recommend?

    • Meningitis B disease is swift and often deadly, sometimes killing within hours of symptom onset. Even with the best medical care, 10-15% die and 20% of survivors suffer permanent damage.

    •Months can elapse between cases during meningitis B outbreaks, which can persist over years, even decades.

    •18 year old freshman Andrea Robinson in fact did die of meningitis B in the 3rd year of an outbreak at Ohio University which sickened an additional 12 students.

    •At Princeton University, there was a 3 month lull followed by 2 more cases.

    • The ST-32 strain of MenB identified at UCSB is the same strain that caused an outbreak in Oregon that lasted many years in the 1990′s and continues to cause Oregon to have double the rate of meningitis as compared to the rest of the U.S. even today.

    • CDC estimates the risk of more cases at the UCSB campus to be 50%.

    The UCSB campus is fortunate to have this opportunity, to be protected from this devastating disease with a safe and effective vaccine. Extraordinary effort and cost have been invested in this vaccine campaign, and for that, I am grateful.

    However, students and their families cannot make an informed decision about vaccination without knowing what’s at stake. Failure on the part of the University, Health Department, and CDC to achieve high levels of vaccination at UCSB could lead to a resurgence of cases, and the next one could be fatal.

    My son went to get his vaccine this afternoon. His word for the number of students there was “sparse.”

    Dr. Ferris at this point should be concerned, not happy. She should be personally knocking on doors, speaking in undergraduates’ lecture halls, dining halls, wherever students congregate, and urging them to get this vaccine. She should also immediately send out an urgent mass email communication to the entire UCSB community, to make sure that the parents of these young adults clearly understand the compelling reasons for vaccination.

  4. Caroline Petrie Reply

    February 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    The Meningitis Foundation of America offers extensive information regarding diagnosis, immunization, recovery and the after effects of meningitis. MFA survives primarily by donations. For the past 16 years, we have assisted people through support groups, 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. 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
    Educate~Vaccinate~Eradicate

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