The same strain of meningitis that hit UCSB last year claims a life at SDSU
San Diego State University first-year pre-communication major Sara Stelzer died last Friday after contracting a strain of meningococcal meningitis.
Last Tuesday, Stelzer was admitted to a nearby San Diego hospital for flu-like symptoms, which later turned out to be a case of meningococcal meningitis, according to a statement released by SDSU. Stelzer was infected by meningococcal meningitis serogroup B, the same strain contracted by four students at UCSB, according to multiple San Diego news sources such as U-T San Diego, UC San Diego’s the Guardian and NBC San Diego.
Vice President of Student Affairs at SDSU Eric Rivera released a statement on Stelzer’s death on Friday.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our students to this terrible illness,” Rivera stated. “After speaking with her family, we know that Sara was a vibrant young woman who loved San Diego State, her friends and the time she spent at our university. It is always difficult when a young life is lost, especially when that person is part of our SDSU family.”
Meningococcal meningitis serogroup B is a rare, lethal disease that attacks the outer lining of the brain. Although there is no currently approved vaccination for serogroup B in the U.S., UCSB and Princeton University gained FDA approval to use the unlicensed vaccine, according to Student Health Director Mary Ferris.
“At UCSB we obtained special permission earlier this year to offer a Meningococcal serogroup B vaccine that is licensed in Europe, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, but not in the USA,” Ferris said. “We were only allowed to give it to undergraduates in February and April, and now we are anxiously awaiting its approval so we can give it to more students.”
Ferris said the bacteria is spread through direct and indirect physical contact.
“It is thought to be spread through close contact with respiratory secretions via the mouth and nose, e.g. sharing cups, glasses and smoking materials and intimate mouth-to-mouth contact,” Ferris said in email. “It is not thought to be airborne.”
According to Ferris, part of the reason this particular strain is so dangerous is because it rapidly attacks the human body.
“It mainly attacks young healthy people and infants, and can be deadly within 24 hours. Once the bacteria gets in the bloodstream or spinal and brain fluid, it seems to overwhelm the immune system before your body has a chance to fight it off,” Ferris said, “For survivors the complications are often severe, such as brain damage, skin damage and even amputations because the infection impairs circulation.”
Student Health Advice Nurse Holly Smith said Student Health is accepting students that want the vaccine.
“We do have the meningococcal vaccine,” Smith said. “People can walk in daily and get that, if they request it first.”
Smith also said the best way to avoid getting the disease is to stay informed about ways to contract and spread the disease.
“We need to educate, educate, educate,” Smith said. “How does the disease spread, and how can I avoid getting it?”
Both Ferris and Smith confirmed that once the serogroup B vaccination is available in the U.S., the university will be ordering and administering them as soon as possible.
A version of this story appeared on page 4 of Thursday, October 23, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.