Public Health Alert: Bacterial Meningitis

September 18, 2014

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

We are writing with an update related to the meningitis case on campus and to provide you with the latest information.

We were notified late today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the meningitis case we reported Tuesday was caused by the meningococcal bacteria and was of serogroup B. This is a form of meningitis commonly referred to as “bacterial meningitis” and more specifically known as meningococcal meningitis. Georgetown is working closely with the CDC and District of Columbia Department of Health to respond to this case and provide information to our community.

According to the CDC, meningococcal meningitis is transmitted through direct exchange of respiratory and throat secretions by close personal contact, such as coughing, sharing drinks, kissing and being in close proximity for an extended period. The bacteria that cause this kind of meningitis are not as contagious as the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been. There is no evidence that you are at risk of catching the infection by touching surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, or exercise equipment.

As of tonight, we have no new confirmed cases of meningitis. Under the guidance of the D.C. Department of Health, we are identifying members of our community who meet the criteria for close contact to make sure they receive preventive antibiotics (known as prophylaxis). This does not mean that these close contacts have the disease; it is to prevent it. In addition to close friends provided with antibiotics earlier this week, we have notified others who had close contact with this case to provide them with antibiotics. We will continue working closely with the D.C. Department of Health to determine who requires prophylaxis. At this time, the CDC does not recommend prescribing antibiotics to the entire student body.

The vaccines approved in the United States do not protect against type B meningococcal meningitis. This means that the vaccine most students received as a teenager does not protect against this strain.

Members of the University community should pay increased attention to personal hygienic practices, including washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol based hand-sanitizers regularly. To further limit the spread of illness, you should also avoid sharing cups, cosmetics, toothbrushes, smoking materials or anything that comes in contact with the mouth.

Signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include high fever, headache, vomiting or stiff neck. Signs and symptoms of a bloodstream infection, which these bacteria can also cause, can include vomiting, chills, rapid breathing, or dark purple rash. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take a few days.

Student Health Services will be open until 2 a.m. tonight. Members of the University community who experience symptoms, including sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, or dark purple rash, or have health concerns should immediately visit the Student Health Center or call (202) 687-2200 during business hours. After hours students should call (202) 444-7243 and ask for the clinician on call for the Student Health Center. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please visit the closest emergency room.  

Staff in the Office of Student Affairs will be available to answer calls tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. EST by calling (202) 687-4056.

More information about meningococcal meningitis is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The University will continue to update information online.

Sincerely,

Todd Olson, PhD
Vice President for Student Affairs

James Welsh, MD, MPH
Assistant Vice President, Student Health Services