Once again, meningitis has grabbed the attention of concerned San Diego residents following the sudden death of 18 year-old San Diego State freshmen Sara Stelzer over the weekend (Stelzer had been placed on life support Friday morning and was removed Saturday). Though no new cases have been reported, tensions have remained high with over 1,000 students fearful of exposure coming forward to request antibiotics and medical evaluations as part of the school’s aggressive effort to halt the spread of the deadly bacterial infection.

While not necessarily a common infection, especially dangerous characteristics of high-profile outbreaks among multiple colleges since 2013 have brought meningitis an increasing presence in the medical spotlight. In March 2013, an outbreak at Princeton University infected 9 students, resulting in the death of a Drexel University student exposed to the disease at the Ivy League institution. Months later in November, another outbreak at UC Santa Barbara resulted in 4 more cases of meningitis, including a lacrosse player who required the amputation of his lower legs.

Both of these outbreaks, despite their limited spread, share significant similarities with the San Diego State tragedy. Colleges, due to their close quarters and even closer mingling, are often ideal settings for the spread of meningitis due to its highly contagious nature, rendered even more dangerous by the lack of symptoms frequently exhibited by carriers of the infection. According to one SDSU student, “People share glasses all the time, especially shot glasses […] Parties are loud, so you talk close. That’s just what happens” – risks expressed by the CDC which continues to advocate the importance of both meningococcal vaccinations and booster shots for incoming freshmen.

Unfortunately, as health officials confirmed today, Stelzer was infected with Serotype B, the same strain of meningitis responsible for the outbreaks at Princeton and UC Santa Barbara, for which no vaccine is readily available in the United States.
Despite the lack of immunization for this strain of the deadly disease, health officials are stressing that knowledge of meningitis and its early symptoms, which include “high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting and lethargy,” can make all the difference in the severity of these life-threatening effects.

For more information on meningitis, we encourage you to visit:
CDC

or to contact: San Diego State Student Health Services