When Harvard University senior Timothy L. Lyons visited the campus’s University Health Services on Saturday, he was experiencing flu-like symptoms. But Lyons was actually suffering from a considerably more serious illness — meningococcal meningitis — one Harvard master said.
On Sunday, Harvard College Dean Benedict Gross issued a public statement to the university community, notifying students and faculty that a Harvard student, whom he did not name but the Harvard Crimson identified, had been admitted to a Boston hospital for treatment and was in stable condition with a good prognosis for recovery. Yale University Health Services Medical Director Ravi Durvasula said Tuesday that Yale students — who are required to get a meningitis vaccination before they take up residence at the school — should not be alarmed by the incident.
At Harvard, Gross announced it was believed that the disease had not spread, although the student’s roommates and close friends were to receive antibiotics “as a precaution.”
Durvasula said Yale students should not worry about the occurrence of meningitis at Harvard.
“Meningococcal meningitis, though quite serious, is extremely rare in the U.S. population,” Durvasula said in an e-mail. “An isolated case at one university is not cause for general panic and should not be viewed as a threat to Yale campus.”
Meningococcal meningitis is one type of bacterial meningitis, which is an inflammation of the meninges, or brain lining, due to infection. The bacteria that cause this infection are common in humans, where they live naturally in the back of the nose and throat. Humans can carry these bacteria for months without becoming ill and only rarely do the bacteria overcome the body’s immune system and cause infection.
The symptoms of meningitis often resemble those of a cold or flu — common viral symptoms include vomiting, headache, drowsiness, fever, and joint pain. Other possible symptoms include a stiff neck, seizures and photophobia.
Durvasula said that, to his knowledge, Yale had never experienced a case of meningitis and pointed to Yale’s efforts to vaccinate all students as evidence that the disease is unlikely to appear here.
Unlike Massachusetts, Connecticut state law mandates that all students living in dorms or residential colleges receive the meningococcal vaccine.
“This is strictly enforced here at Yale and YUHS has achieved very high rates of immunization amongst Yale students,” Durvasula said.
This has been achieved through university-sponsored vaccination campaigns since the law took effect two years ago, he said. Students are required to be vaccinated against the disease before they take up residence at Yale.
“The student body should feel well protected in terms of the rates of immunization here at Yale,” he said.
The Connecticut law requiring vaccinations was passed by the Committee of Public Health following the death of a committee member’s friend from meningitis.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 10 to 15 percent of meningitis cases are fatal. But the risk of death is significantly lowered with early detection and antibiotic treatment. College freshmen are at an increased risk for contracting the disease, the CDC Web site said.
Some Yale students said they were unfazed by the case of meningitis at Harvard.
“Compared to Harvard, the fact that [Yale] students have to have the shot makes me feel a little more safe,” Waverly Dolaman ’04 said.
Laura Schewel ’06 agreed that students at Yale should not feel threatened by the case of meningitis at Harvard.
“I don’t think it makes me feel particularly less safe,” she said.
According to the CDC, meningitis-causing bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, and can be transmitted through kissing, coughing and sharing food.
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