CU-Boulder Student Treated For Meningitis; Campus Initiates Public Health Response

March 17, 2006

A 19-year-old male student at the University of Colorado at Boulder was diagnosed Friday morning with meningococcal meningitis. The student, who is a sophomore living off campus, is in stable condition at Boulder Community Foothills Hospital.

University and Boulder County Public Health officials are investigating the single case and say that no other cases of the disease have been identified. State health authorities also have been notified.

Friends of the student and other contacts currently are being sought and notified. The student attended a house party in Boulder in the 1100 block of 10th Street on Saturday, March 11, where both CU-Boulder students and nonstudents were present. CU students who think they may have attended the party are asked to call the Wardenburg Hotline at (303) 492-8741. For general information about the disease, nonstudents should call Boulder County Public Health at (303) 441-1460. Wardenburg Health Center is open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Seven people already have been notified and are in the process of being treated or scheduled for treatment with a preventive medication that is given to individuals who had confirmed direct contact with the patient.

The last reported case of meningococcal meningitis at CU-Boulder was in February 2002. That patient, a male student, recovered fully.

Robert Cranny, director of CU-Boulder's Wardenburg Health Center, and Heath Harmon, epidemiologist for Boulder County Public Health, said that risk to other people is minimal and is confined to those who have had direct contact with the patient.

"The risk for contracting this disease is low, but individuals who have had close contact with the patient are advised to receive antibiotic treatment within 24 hours as a preventive measure, although treatment is available for up to 14 days after exposure," Cranny said.

Close contact includes kissing; sharing cigarettes, drinks, glasses or eating utensils; and being exposed to secretions from the nose or throat of the infected person.

Meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord, and its accompanying bloodstream infections, are rare but potentially fatal.

"It's important to remember that a single case of meningococcal meningitis does not constitute an outbreak," Harmon said. "Isolated cases occur from time to time, especially during the winter and early spring months. Nevertheless, we recommend that anyone experiencing symptoms of the disease contact their physician immediately."

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, severe sudden headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash and lethargy.

A preventive immunization is recommended by the American College Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control. People affiliated with the university who are interested in getting the vaccination shot can go to Wardenburg Health Center from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Wardenburg Health Center is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Parents of all incoming freshmen receive a letter during the summer with information about the recommendation for immunization. The cost for vaccination is $115.

For more information on meningococcal meningitis check the CU Web site at www.colorado.edu/healthcenter/immunizations/meningitis.html or the Boulder County Public Health site at http://www.co.boulder.co.us/health/hpe/cdc/diseases/meningitis/.

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