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Update: ETSU offers info in light of meningitis discovery

August 26th, 2014 6:21 pm by Max Hrenda

Update: ETSU offers info in light of meningitis discovery

East Tennessee State University has issued a public health warning after the discovery of two potential cases of bacterial meningitis.

At a press conference held Tuesday evening, Director of Student Health Services Dr. Lisa Ousley said bacterial meningitis had been located, confirmed and treated in an off-campus student, while another off-campus student was being treated for symptoms of the disease.

Bacterial meningitis is a disease that affects the membranes — known as the meninges — around the brain and spinal cord. If untreated, it can lead to brain damage or death.

Ousley said that anywhere between 1,400 and 3,000 cases of bacterial meningitis occur in the U.S. in an average year. Though the number of annual occurrences may seem small — and the school requires on-campus students under the age of 22 to receive a meningococcal vaccination, which stymies the disease — Ousley added that college campuses are at greater risk for infection.

“The rarity is excluded because we’re a college campus,” she said. “(Within) college-age adults, there is about a 25 percent prevalence within that 1,400 to 3,000. It’s mainly because we live in close quarters in dorms, the sharing of drinks and utensils, bar patronage increases your risk and not taking the precautions.”

Ousley said bacterial meningitis, though potentially deadly, is not transmitted with ease. Unlike the common cold or flu, she said, bacterial meningitis is transmitted by direct exposure to certain bodily secretions.

“You have to have secretion and respiratory droplet exposure, and really live in an intimate setting for it to be transmitted,” Ousley said. “Coughing (or) sneezing and then (breathing) it in, or they have to have body or fluid exchange, like kissing or drinking after each other.”

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis tend to present themselves within 10 days, Ousley said, and students are tested for meningitis “if a student had a fever, a severe headache, light sensitivity, nausea, a rash, vomiting and if it was sudden offset.”

“This infection generally can present itself in two to seven days,” she said. “Typically, it’s on the third or fourth day.”

Ousley added that meningococcal vaccination remains the most effective treatment for bacterial meningitis. Any student who suspects that he or she may have been exposed to bacterial meningitis is encouraged to contact either their health care provider or Student Health Services, located in Suite 160 of Roy S. Nicks Hall. SHS is open Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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Reported at 6:21 p.m.:

Two East Tennessee State University students are dealing with probable bacterial meningitis infections, leading administrators to caution against contact that could lead to the spread of the germs.

According to a press release from the college, an off-campus student was recently treated and released from a local hospital with one case of the pathogen, and another off-campus student with a suspected case is being investigated by the Washington County Health Department.

ETSU health officials say the risk of transmission is minimal to other members of the ETSU community. The university has a protocol for suspected cases of meningitis, and all protocols are being followed. The Washington County Health Department has been notified of both cases.

The disease is contagious and can be spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets, such as those produced by coughing and sneezing, and can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, such as by oral contact with shared items, like cigarettes or drinking glasses, or through kissing. Only people who have been in close, direct contact should be considered for preventive treatment.

Common symptoms of meningitis include fever, severe and persistent headache, chills, body aches, nausea, and neck stiffness. Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should contact his or her health care provider.

In January, at the beginning of the spring semester, a confirmed case of meningitis found in a worker who unloaded a truck for ETSU dining services, similarly set off alarms and triggered protocols across the Johnson City campus.

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