Meningitis contracted on campus

A student has contracted meningococcal meningitis and is receiving treatment at Duke Hospital, administrators said Tuesday night.

The student, who had been tenting in Krzyzewskiville, is on antibiotics and will likely remain in the hospital for at least a week, said Dr. William Purdy, director of Student Health. The student was infected by the bacterial form of meningitis, which is more severe than the viral form.

Meningococcal disease is an infection of the linings of the brain and spinal cord. The disease is rare, and only 0.5 to 5 out of 100,000 people contract it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Purdy said that if students feel the onset of symptoms such as vomiting, headaches and high fever, they should seek immediate medical attention. Antibiotics can treat the bacterial form and prevent the spread of the disease. Meningococcal disease can be fatal if it is not treated early, and roughly 11 to 19 percent of survivors experience neurological effects, which can be as severe as paralysis or mental defects, according to the CDC.

Bacterial meningitis is not contagious through casual contact, but can spread through respiratory and throat secretions, like coughing, kissing and sharing drinks, according to the CDC. Meningococcal disease does not spread as easily as the common cold or chicken pox, Purdy noted.

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said it seems the student will recover from the disease with the treatment being administered.

"It's my understanding that she was able to get the medical attention that she needed in time," Wasiolek said.

The student started feeling unwell and exhibiting symptoms of high fever and vomiting late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Wasiolek said. The student was admitted to the emergency room and started receiving treatment just before the official diagnosis was made, Purdy said.

The student's tentmates and roommate were notified by administrators Tuesday night and will be receiving prophylactic antibiotics over the next two days beginning Wednesday morning, Wasiolek said. The CDC recommends that treatment be administered within 24 hours of possible contagion, which is the amount of time it takes for the onset of symptoms.

"In college students we don't expect to see the case [of another infection], but we're going to be vigilant," Purdy said.

Medical experts told administrators that only those who have been in a "prolonged living situation" with the student are at significant risk and should receive preventative treatment, Wasiolek said.

"It's my understanding that the chance of anyone contracting the disease as a result of this situation is extremely remote," she added.

Duke follows state recommendations to encourage but not require the vaccine for residents of North Carolina, Purdy said. North Carolina law requires colleges to provide information to students about meningitis and its vaccine. Although Purdy did not have official figures on the number of current students who are vaccinated, he estimated that more than 50 percent and maybe up to 75 percent have received the vaccine. A greater proportion of each incoming class has been receiving the vaccine, Purdy added, which lasts for three to five years.

The student may have contracted the disease through a latent strain from another student, Purdy said.

"It's very common for people to carry the bacteria," he noted. "If you tested a lot of college students you would find they would carry the bacteria, but it doesn't affect most people."

Ten students in the tent were notified in person Tuesday by Wasiolek and Clay Adams, assistant dean of new student and family programs for the Dean of Students Office and the dean on call at the time. They began contacting those tenters following Coach Mike Krzyzewski's address to students, but did not call together all residents of K-ville to inform them about the case. Another tenter was contacted by phone, Wasiolek said.

"I would say they were very grateful for the information. They all planned to go to Student Health [Wednesday]," Wasiolek said. "They were delighted to know they could still go to them game and they were all very calm."

Some of the students who shared the tent with the ill student said they had already known about the case before administrators contacted them. They added that they are not alarmed about the situation nor worried for their health, and they believe the administration handled the issue properly.

"There's not much we can do right now. We're just going to see what happens," one of the student's tentmates said. "I don't think it's going to affect that much. She's in good care at the hospital-we're not too worried, we're obviously concerned for her, but it seems like she's well taken care of."

The student was already out of K-ville at the onset of illness, as personal checks for regular tenting ended over the weekend. Wasiolek added that the walk-up line outside Cameron Indoor Stadium and the basketball game have not been affected.

Resident assistants for the tenters said they were instructed not to comment on the situation.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta notified students of the case in an e-mail sent Tuesday night at 11:45 p.m.

Purdy said Student Health will be notifying the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday morning. He added that students who have not necessarily been exposed but wish to get a vaccine can contact Student Health.

An outbreak of bacterial meningitis on campus in 1986 infected three students, and a student was infected with viral meningitis within the past several years, Purdy said.

Julia Love and Emmeline Zhao contributed reporting.


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