February 11, 2002

Student Infected With Meningococcal Strain

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A 21-year-old female senior was hospitalized Saturday with meningococcemia, a form of meningococcal infection. She is expected to recover fully and be released today from Cayuga Medical Center.


Staff from Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, in coordination with Tompkins County Health Department officials are currently seeking those who were in recent contact with the student to administer preventive medication if necessary. The student’s name was not released due to patient confidentiality.

The last two reported cases of meningococcal disease at Cornell were in March and November 2001. Both students made full recoveries.

“She had some kind of bug before she became sick,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett. “We expect she’ll feel better in the next few days.”


Meningococcal disease is a rare but usually treatable disease caused by the meningococcus organism, present in up to 10 percent of the population’s nose and throat secretions, according to Dittman. The normally harmless bacteria can become harmful when the immune system is weakened by infection or other causes.

About 3,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with the disease, with 100 to 125 cases occurring on college campuses. A blood infection of this type, which the student contracted, is called meningococcemia. Of all meningococcal cases, 10 to 15 percent are fatal, she said.

In the past year, the number of infections at Cornell have been “slightly higher than normal,” but still within the expected range, she said.

Dittman noted that the risk of infection is slightly higher in the winter and early spring. There is some potential for multiple cases at college campuses and dormitory situations, where students live in close proximity. Still, occurrences are rare, she said.

To reduce the risk of infection, Gannett recommends that students be innoculated with the meningococcal vaccine, which is 80 percent effective against two-thirds of known strains, Dittman said.

The relatively new vaccine “can significantly reduce the risk of somebody becoming infected,” she said. “The number of incoming freshmen getting [vaccinations] is definitely rising.”

Additionally, Gannett recommends that students avoid sharing eating and drinking utensils, lipstick, lip balm and cigarettes. Kissing on the lips, heavy alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation also may increase the risk of infection.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, rash and mental-status alterations, according to Gannett. They develop within the first few days of exposure; the disease is treated with antibiotics.

Anyone showing signs of these symptoms is advised to immediately contact Gannett at 255-5155.

Archived article by Andy Guess