Updated April 1, 2016
In the wake of the rehospitalization of the Silliman freshman who first contracted bacterial meningitis last month, and the testing of a second Yale undergraduate for the disease during the recent spring recess, the president of the National Meningitis Association has urged Yale students to vaccinate themselves against the infection.
Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin notified the Yale community on March 18 that the female freshman student, who contracted the serogroup B strain of the disease in February, was rehospitalized while in another state on spring break for what was later confirmed as a recurrence of the disease. A source close to the affected student confirmed that she has not yet returned to campus. University Deputy Press Secretary Karen Peart could not confirm whether either of the students are back on campus for medical privacy reasons. The second student, whose identity has not been confirmed, was tested inconclusively for meningococcal disease and is awaiting the results of further investigations, according to a March 22 email to the student body from Genecin. In the March 22 email, Genecin added that Yale Health was contacting individuals who had been in close contact with the second student in order to provide them with preventative treatment. Genecin announced in a March 31 email to the Yale community that the second student did not have disease caused by the meningococcus bacteria.
Genecin also reminded the student body that a vaccine against the serogroup B variety is available at Yale Health.
“Dr. Genecin and other University officials have been working with public health officials and will be communicating additional information as soon as possible,” Peart stated in the Wednesday email to the News.
The affected students could not be reached for comment.
“We continue to work and consult with the New Haven Health Department, the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we will be back in touch with more information when we have results from the additional testing,” Genecin wrote in the March 22 email.
Genecin did not confirm in his emails whether the two students had any contact with each other prior to the testing of the second student, and he did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a statement to the News, Lynn Bozof, president of the National Meningitis Association, called on Yale students to receive the vaccine against serogroup B meningitis, which is available at Yale Health. She also recalled her own experience of losing her son to meningitis in 1998 and urged other members of the Yale community to educate themselves about the infection.
“When I hear about hospitalization, it reminds me of what my family went through,” Bozof said. “It still feels like yesterday but 18 years ago my son, Evan, called to say he had a terrible migraine headache. Hours later, he was in intensive care. That began the worst 26 days imaginable.”
Bozof went on to describe the complications suffered by her son as a result of the infection that eventually led to irreversible brain damage causing his premature death. She added that she hopes education about meningitis will advance its prevention at Yale, given that the disease is potentially preventable by vaccine.
While acknowledging the difficulties associated with diagnosing meningitis because of the similarity of its symptoms to the common flu, Bozof also advised the Yale administration to maintain communication with the student body on the disease and to encourage vaccination.
“I encourage the administration to keep the community updated about meningococcal disease on campus and to encourage students to get vaccinated against serogroup B,” she said. “Recognizing the symptoms early can lead to lifesaving treatment.”
On the same date that Genecin alerted the Yale College community to the rehospitalization of the student who fell ill in February, a Rutgers University undergraduate was hospitalized with the same strain as the Yale student. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness at Rutgers Melodee Lasky alerted the Rutgers student body to the student’s infection on March 21.
“The student, who was hospitalized on March 18, is receiving treatment and is recovering,” Lasky wrote in an email to the student body. “Rutgers Health Services is coordinating its response with local, regional and state health officials. Those who had close contact with the student are being notified so they can receive antibiotics as a preventative measure.”
Laskee later wrote to the student body on March 23 with details of a vaccine against the disease available at Rutgers’ health center and urged students to get vaccinated, adding that no other cases of meningitis have been reported in the Rutgers student body. Lasky did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On March 22, Rutgers’ student newspaper The Daily Targum reported that the New Jersey Department of Public Health, which is working with Rutgers on the meningitis case, has not recommended the cancellation of any activities or scheduled events on campus in connection with the diagnosis.
According to Bozof, 32 campuses in the U.S. were affected by bacterial meningitis in the last three years, and only five experienced outbreaks of the serogroup B strain.