Meningococcal vaccine urged; helpline, Web sites available

A Washington State University student was diagnosed on Sunday with meningococcemia, a bacterial infection of the blood that is caused by the same organism as meningococcal meningitis.

The student, a 19-year-old male freshman member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, was admitted to Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds with rash, joint pains and swelling of the hands and feet. He is being treated with intravenous antibiotics and is in stable condition.

Health officials from WSU and the Whitman County Public Health Department are calling close contacts of the student and administering antibiotics to those individuals as a precaution. Those who have come in close contact with someone diagnosed with the illness need to receive antibiotics to reduce their risk of contracting the disease. Close contacts are considered housemates or family members; those who have shared eating, drinking, or smoking materials; and those who have had sexual contact with the individual within 10 days prior to the diagnosis of the illness.

Symptoms of meningococcemia include high fever, rash, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and joint pains. Symptoms of meningitis include severe headaches, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash, lethargy and high fever. Both conditions may resemble the flu. Those with symptoms should seek treatment immediately.

This case marks the third case within the WSU student population in the last two months. Each of these cases occurred in freshmen who were living in a sorority or fraternity at the time of infection. College students residing in high-density residential settings like fraternities, sororities and residence halls are at elevated risk for meningococcal disease, Wright said.

Because this is the third case of meningococcal disease in two months, these cases taken together constitute, according to the Center for Disease Control, a defined outbreak of meningococcal disease within the WSU student population, the WSU physician said. “For this reason, we are strongly recommending that all WSU students receive the meningococcal vaccine.”

“We are particularly urging WSU students who live or have recently lived in fraternities, sororities and residence halls to obtain the vaccine since these students are at higher risk. The vaccine is 85-90 percent effective against four of five meningococcal strains including the strain involved in these recent cases,” Wright said.

Health and Wellness is making arrangements for on-site vaccinations for summer school students currently living in the residence halls and fraternities/sororities. Information about the times and places will soon be available and disseminated via residence hall and Greek system staff.

The university also will contact current WSU students and their parents to recommend the students get the vaccine before returning to campus. The vaccine also will be offered to those participating in new student summer orientation programs.

WSU students living in the Pullman region should contact Health and Wellness Services at 335-3575 for information about the vaccine. WSU students outside of the region should contact their physician about obtaining the vaccine.

For more information about Meningococcal disease, Health & Wellness Services has set up a Meningitis Information Helpine at 335-5438 that will be staffed this evening (May 17 until

10:00 pm and again starting Monday, May 20, 7:30 am). Please distribute this number to your employees so they may refer parents or students to the helpline for specific information. Health & Wellness is able to administer the meningococcal vaccine to WSU students. For information about the disease or vaccine and for questions over the weekend, please direct students or parents to Health & Wellness Web site at To visit this site yourself click here or contact Donna Hash at

You can also click on the following Web site links for the Center for Disease Control or the American College Health Association .

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