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CDC importing meningitis vaccine to N.J.

1:39 PM, Nov 16, 2013   |    comments
This week, Princeton University confirmed its seventh case of meningitis this year. (Photo: Mel Evans, AP)
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A meningitis outbreak has hit Princeton University and federal officials hope a vaccine approved in Europe and Australia but not the United States will help stop it.

This weekend, Princeton University officials will talk about how to protect people on the Ivy League campus.

Martin Mbugua, a university spokesman, said the school has been carefully considering how to stop the spread of the disease. "We will be discussing it with our trustees this weekend, and when we have something to announce we will make an announcement," he said Saturday.

Seven people--six students and a campus visitor-- contracted the disease this year, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. While the majority have recovered, at least one student remained hospitalized this week.

The Food and Drug Administration approved importing Bexsero for possible use on Princeton's campus, Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Associated Press.

No vaccine for use against the type B meningococcal bacteria which caused the cases at Princeton is available in the U.S., Reynolds said, adding that the decision to receive the vaccine would be optional if Princeton and CDC officials agree to offer it to students.

A spokesperson for Novartis, which makes Bexsero, told CNN that the company hopes to get it approved in the United States.

"We have filed an Investigational New Drug application for our MenB vaccine in the U.S., but have not yet come to an agreement on a pathway to licensure for this vaccine with regulatory authorities," Elizabeth Power told CNN.

The network also talked to William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. "Usually, when you see this kind of meningitis on the campus, it's meningitis C," he said. "This is very, very unusual."

Lynn Bozof, president of the National Meningitis Association, told NBC News she was pleased with the cooperation between the CDC, the FDA, Novartis and Princeton officials.

"We've been waiting years for a B vaccine," said Bozof, whose 20-year-old son, Evan, died of meningitis in 1998 after suffering for nearly a month, including having his arms and legs amputated.

"I think this is really wonderful that all these groups have come together to combat this," she told NBC News. "Their immediate concern is stopping the outbreak in this contained group."

Bacterial meningitis can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The disease is fairly rare in the United States. Those who get it develop symptoms quickly and can die in a couple of days. Survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.

The bacteria are spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing, and most cases occur in previously healthy children and young adults. The disease can easily spread in crowded conditions, like dorm rooms. All students living in dorms are required by state law to have a licensed meningitis vaccine, which protects against meningitis A, C, Y and W-135. But, the vaccine does not protect against type B, which the CDC says most often affects infants and children.

The school is telling students to wash their hands, cover their coughs and not to share items such as drinking glasses and eating utensils.

University officials have also been working with the CDC, New Jersey Department of Health and other local agencies to stop the outbreak, Mbugua said Saturday.

The New Jersey Department of Health, working with the CDC, ruled the meningitis cases an outbreak to "increase awareness and prompt early case recognition among members of the Princeton community and healthcare providers," the agency said.

It is not recommending the university cancel any activities or scheduled events andsays the public should not avoid contact with Princeton or Princeton students.

Princeton's football team is scheduled to host Yale for a Saturday afternoon game.

Contributing: The Associated Press


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