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Meningococcal disease afflicts 3rd Oregon State student

By BENNETT HALL
Of the Corvallis Gazette-Times

CORVALLIS — After lying dormant for several months, the same strain of meningococcal disease that infected two Oregon State University students last fall has struck again on campus.

A third OSU student has been confirmed to have strain B of the disease, raising the situation to the level of an outbreak, health officials announced Thursday,

The unidentified student, who has been hospitalized at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center since Feb. 23, is reported to be in good condition. Two other students were admitted to the Corvallis hospital in November and were later released after being treated for the disease.

The names of the students have not been released because of federal privacy restrictions, even though the disease can be spread through prolonged exposure to an infected person.

Meningococcal disease primarily afflicts young people. While not highly contagious, it can cause meningitis, a potentially fatal condition. Meningitis can also cause severe circulatory problems in the extremities that may require amputation.

OSU and Benton County health workers have identified 43 people who may have been exposed to the infected student and have treated all of them with antibiotics, said Charlie Fautin, deputy director of the Benton County Health Department. No one else is believed to be at risk from exposure to that particular student, who lives in an off-campus apartment.

“We're pretty confident of that,” Fautin said.

Now that a third case of the same strain has been confirmed, OSU is urging students to get vaccinated. The university has scheduled vaccination clinics for students from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at McAlexander Fieldhouse on the Corvallis campus.

The vaccine is intended for people under the age of 25. Because meningococcal disease spreads more readily in close quarters, OSU is particularly targeting the 5,000 or so students who live in campus dorms and the estimated 1,500-1,800 who live in fraternities, sororities and other off-campus group housing facilities.

“Conceivably we'd be dealing with upwards of 7,000 students,” said Steve Clark, the university's chief spokesman.

Incoming OSU students are required to be vaccinated for four of the most common strains of the disease, Clark said, but that shot does not protect against strain B.

In 2015, an outbreak of meningococcal disease at the University of Oregon sickened seven people and killed one student. UO officials provided vaccinations for students, but many did not return for follow-up shots, rendering the treatment much less effective.

“We're going to place particular emphasis with our students to complete the series,” Clark said.

In general, it requires at least four hours of face-to-face contact with an infected person during the week before the person got sick to contract meningococcal disease, and local health officials believe they have been able to limit the spread of the disease by giving antibiotics to everyone who had prolonged exposure to the infected students. For that reason, they don't think there's cause for alarm.

“This is quite a serious disease for the people who get it,” Fautin said. “But it doesn't rise to the level of a public health emergency.”

Nevertheless, he added, people need to stay alert because there can be a long lag time between cases.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms of meningitis — which can include a high fever, headache, stiff neck, exhaustion, rash, vomiting and diarrhea — should seek immediate medical attention.

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Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com

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