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University victims of meningitis have not "completely escaped residual effects"

Some University students infected with meningitis have suffered some of the disease’s residual effects, according to Peter Johnsen, Director of Medical Services at University Health Services.

“I would not say all of our students have completely escaped residual effects,” Johnsen said at a panel on the upcoming meningitis B vaccine Thursday evening, where medical professionals from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University fielded questions regarding the disease and the vaccine. He referred to residual effects, like deafness and difficulty concentrating, that can be long-term consequences of the disease.

The disease has infected eight people on campus since March. The series of cases at the University was officially declared an outbreak by state health authorities after the fourth case occurred in May.

Bexsero, a vaccine against the type of meningitis that has caused all the cases at the University, is not yet approved for use in the United States, but it is being imported to combat the outbreak. The vaccine will be made available free of charge to all University undergraduates, all graduate students who live in dormitories and University community members with existing medical conditions predisposing them to meningococcal disease.

When asked whether the vaccine might cause allergic reactions, acting chief of the CDC’s meningitis and vaccine preventable diseases branch Tom Clark explained that most allergic reactions are not caused by the vaccine itself, but instead by other factors such as the latex cap on the syringe, which can trigger allergic reactions to latex. He assured students that most allergic reactions take place in the first few minutes and that recipients of the vaccine will be closely monitored for 15 minutes.

Clark said that it is very rare to see long-term effects after the 30 to 60 day mark, and that check-ups will be held following each dose. Students will receive information on the day of vaccination that will discuss examples of common and rare short-term effects, but even the common effects only occur once in every 10 instances, he said. The vaccine will not interfere with other meningitis vaccines students are required by state law to receive prior to matriculation.

In response to other questions, the experts explained that it is fully safe for students to get the vaccine if they are experiencing cold symptoms and that students will receive a record verifying they received the vaccination.

Most of the questions came not from students but from other adults in the audience, whose questions focused on possible side effects of the vaccine and other efforts the University and CDC could be taking to prevent the spread of meningitis.

One woman in the audience expressed concern that the University hasn’t been releasing the names of all the students who contracted meningitis for the sake of informing other students who have come in contact with them recently.

Clark responded that this wouldn’t help trace transmission and that the CDC has its own procedure for tracing students who may have come in contact with those who have contracted meningitis. Peter Johnsen, medical director of University Health Services, added that the University does not release student names, although four students who contracted the disease are featured in a video on the University homepage.

The University has kept detailed information on each meningitis case, yet no direct connection has been made between the cases, Clark explained.

Two panels on the subject were hosted by the CDC, UHS and Environmental Health and Safety. 11 students attended the 7:30 p.m. session held in the Rocky Common Room. There were approximately the same number of parents and other adults in attendance. 10 students attended the 9 p.m. session held in the Julian Street Library.

Staff writer Charles Min contributed reporting.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misattributed the quotation about students not having completely escaped residual effects of meningitis. It was said by Director of Medical Services at University Health Services Peter Johnsen. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.

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