Second U student contracts meningitis

Branden Peterson

ABruno Bornsztein and Emily Johns A second University student was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, Boynton Health Service officials said Thursday.

The male student was first admitted to Fairview-University Medical Center on Sunday evening, Boynton community program specialist David Golden said.

Boynton director Dr. Ed Ehlinger said the student asked that his name not be released.

An e-mail sent to residence hall community advisers Thursday instructed them to not speak to Daily reporters and to refer inquiries to residential life assistant director Susan Stubblefield.

Stubblefield was not available for comment.

Ehlinger said data confidentiality rules prohibited him from releasing much information and said he did not tell CAs not to comment on meningitis cases.

“We’ve not talked to anybody because we can’t,” he said. “There must be something else going on over there.”

Boynton administered oral antibiotics for the bacteria Wednesday to approximately 30 individuals believed to have had close contact with the patient, Golden said.

Golden said this is the third confirmed case of meningitis he can remember on campus.

He said any potential threat of meningitis on campus is under the closest possible surveillance, and students should not feel threatened.

“Really they (students) don’t need to do anything at all,” Golden said.

If a student is concerned about his or her health, the option of immunization is available.

In the meantime, Golden said, “The most important thing is if there’s an indication that we need to do more, we will get the word out.”

Golden said having the patient stay conscious and able to tell officials who he has had contact with recently has helped dramatically.

As of Thursday evening, health officials were awaiting test results to determine if the case is related to the March 27 death of University student Kristin Marx. Marx died after contracting a bacterial strain of meningitis.

At the Legislature

Lawmakers considered a bill Thursday that would require all post-secondary schools to inform students about the risks of meningitis.

Under the proposed law, public and private colleges and universities would have to tell new students living in on-campus student housing that a meningitis vaccine is available.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, who introduced a similar bill in the Senate, said recent cases of meningitis bring a sense of urgency to her bill.

The bill, Senate file 641, requires universities in the state to distribute information about meningitis to incoming first-year students before they come to campus.

Robling said students are already required to receive information about Hepatitis B and fill out immunization records before coming to school.

The bill stopped short of requiring a vaccine for incoming first-year students, Robling said, because the disease is fairly rare and does not exist only in student populations.

“It is a very fast-moving bacteria but it is traceable if it’s caught early enough,” she said.

Although the bill originally contained a provision requiring students to sign a waiver and return it to the University signaling they understand the information, the provision was removed for administrative reasons, Robling said.

Robling said that her objective was to make sure students are well-informed about the risks.

“I think information is so important,” she said.

Rep. Ray Cox, R-Northfield, who introduced his bill in the House in March, said the law would decrease the impact of meningitis on college students.

Ehlinger said the disease is spread through direct contact with oral secretions, in activities such as kissing or sharing drinking glasses, pop cans, water bottles or smoking materials. He said the risks for contagion were generally low.

Ehlinger said Boynton supports the meningitis information bill and already distributes information about the disease to all incoming students.

But Mike Kepferle, the father of a Maryland student who died after contracting meningitis in 2000, said he is disappointed to hear school officials call the meningitis risks low. Kepferle, who helped start the National Meningitis Association, said he wants colleges to “step forward and publicly support the efforts to help protect every student.”

Jane Hession of Edina, whose son Brendan died of meningitis in 1997, said she often hears statistics that say the disease is rare.

“Statistics have no meaning for me,” she said. “My son contracted and died from that rare disease.”

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who co-authored the bill with Cox, said he thinks college students are at the highest risk for contracting the disease.

“It may be due to the fact that young people feel invincible … sharing drinks doesn’t seem too dangerous,” he said.

A 2001 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a sevenfold greater incidence of meningitis among first-year students living in dorms than in the overall undergraduate population.

While some colleges provide enough information about the disease, many incoming students are unaware of the danger, Nornes said. That’s not entirely the colleges’ fault, he said.

“I feel the K-12 system may be letting us down by not stressing the dangers of this illness,” Nornes said. No bills dealing with meningitis information in primary and secondary schools have been passed, he said.

Cox said some states require all incoming college students to be vaccinated. He said laws in those states allow students to sign a waiver if they don’t want to be vaccinated.

A vaccine that is highly effective against some strains of bacterial meningitis is available at Boytnon. The vaccine is not covered under the student services fee and costs $70.

“I’m not ruling out a vaccination requirement,” Cox said, “but there is probably not enough time to do it this session.”

“I think that is more than Minnesota wants to do, but in light of the recent death and the deaths in Mankato a few years ago, maybe it should be considered,” Cox said.

– Jens Krogstad contributed to this report.

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