Three University of Oregon freshmen have fallen ill with type B meningococcal disease since mid-January. On February 17, a freshman student died and is currently a presumed fourth case. Confirmatory tests are pending. Lane County health officials, University of Oregon, and Oregon Health Authority are working to prevent further infections.
If you had close contact with one of the ill students...
People who had close contact with one of the ill students should contact Lane County Health Department at (541) 682-4041. A nurse will help decide whether you should take antibiotics to prevent illness.
Meningococcus is a type of bacteria. It can cause meningitis and other serious infections. Three subtypes – B, C, and Y – are responsible for most meningococcal disease in the United States. Type B has caused approximately 50% of the cases in Oregon.
Meningococcus bacteria live in the nose and throat of 5 to 10 percent of adults, but most people who have the meningococcus bacteria do not get sick from it. Meningococcal disease is rare, generally striking less than 1 person out of every 100,000 per year. It mostly affects adolescents and young adults, seldom causing illness after age 25.
People with a fever along with severe headache, neck stiffness or rash should seek medical attention immediately. The disease can progress quickly but can be cured with antibiotics if they are given promptly.
In some cases, meningococcal disease causes brain damage, deafness, paralysis and loss of fingers, toes, or limbs. About 10 percent of the cases are fatal.
How it spreads
Meningococcus spreads by coughing, sneezing, or close personal contact, such as sharing drinks or kissing. It is less contagious than the common cold or flu.
Close contact includes:
- Living with a person ill with the disease.
- Spending several hours with an ill person through sports teams, fraternities, sororities, or attending parties.
- Kissing an ill person, or sharing drinks, eating utensils, smoking materials, water bottles, drinking glasses, cosmetics, or toothbrushes.
New vaccines that protect against type B meningococcus are now available. The University of Oregon Health Center has a limited supply of type B vaccine. Public Health and the University are arranging for additional vaccine to provide widespread vaccination coverage for students.
You can also lower your risk of infection by washing your hands, not sharing cigarettes or eating utensils, and by not drinking from a bottle, cup or straw used by someone else. Smoking increases the risk of meningococcal infection.