Student at UMass Amherst Diagnosed with Meningitis

AMHERST, Mass - A 19-year-old first-year student at the University of Massachusetts, from Rockland, Mass., has been diagnosed with meningitis. The student, a female, is hospitalized in South Shore Hospital, South Weymouth, Mass., where she is listed in fair condition.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by viruses or bacteria. In the current case, the diagnosis is of the bacterial type. Some forms of the illness can be fatal, and persons who have had close contact with a patient in the two weeks before the diagnosis may be advised to take preventive antibiotics.

The student went to University Health Services on Wed., Sept. 22, complaining of flu-like symptoms, according to Bernette Melby, director of University Health Services. The next day, her parents took her to South Shore Hospital, Melby said.

Melby said seven or eight other students who were identified as having been in close contact with the student, including her roommate, have been treated at Health Services with a prophylactic oral antibiotic, ciprofloxacin. Health Services staff are working with friends and acquaintances to identify others who may have come in contact with her.

Anne J. Lardner, public health nurse at University Health Services, said the disease is spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person. She urged people not to share eating utensils, drinking cups, water bottles, or smoking materials. Other precautions, she said, include covering one''s mouth when coughing or sneezing, and washing hands after contact with oral secretions. She said the bacteria cannot usually live for more than a few minutes outside the body, and therefore, are not easily transmitted by routine contact with an infected person.

The last time UMass had a confirmed case of meningitis was in May 1999. The student went home from the hospital in June.

Although a meningitis vaccine is available at University Health Services, UMass follows federal and state guidelines and does not require students to receive the vaccine. Lardner said the vaccine only protects against a few of the 13 serogroups that cause the disease. This means that even people who have received the vaccine need to have the antibiotic if they are exposed to a person who comes down with the disease.