Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 31, 1997

Information is
Focus After
Loyola Student's

Leslie Rice
News and Information

Following the recent deaths of a Loyola College and a Morgan State student to bacterial meningitis, Hopkins health officials say they are taking the outbreaks seriously and are quickly working to ensure that students and employees are familiar with the disease's symptoms and early warning signs.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the covering of the brain caused by either bacteria, viruses or fungi. Bacterial meningitis (meningococcal meningitis) is the rarest of the three varieties, but as the tragic recent deaths of the Loyola and Morgan State students can attest, this strain of meningitis can be deadly if not treated quickly.

Last week, memorandums were sent out to students and employees that outlined the symptoms of meningitis and the protocol to take if a student or worker has come into any contact with a person who has been diagnosed with meningitis. Students are asked to immediately call the Student Health and Wellness Center at (410)516-8270 on the ground floor of AMR 1, and employees should contact the Occupational Health Services at (410)516-0450 (Homewood) and (410)955-6211 (East Baltimore).

Alain Joffe, medical director of the Student Health and Wellness Center, said that the center has received several calls from worried students since the March 21 death of Loyola freshman Gerry Case.

"We've had students call and say they've been to a party at Loyola recently and wonder if they're at risk," said Joffe. "Others just want to feel safe and ask why the entire campus isn't being treated with vaccines like the Loyola campus.

"I try to explain to them that there is a big difference between the Hopkins campus and the Loyola campus in that there haven't been any cases of meningitis reported on the Hopkins campus. We've been conferring with public health and infectious disease specialists to ensure that we maintain a state of extreme vigilance and are prepared to act quickly, effectively and decisively if a case occurs. But to distribute a vaccine that isn't medically indicated is not advisable. More importantly, these vaccines have side effects, and if we administered them to everyone, we would run a greater risk of having students admitted to the hospital with drug reactions to the vaccine than of students developing the disease itself."

The typical early warning signs of meningitis are fever, headache and a stiff neck. A victim may notice a rash composed of tiny (1-2 mm) purple spots that do not disappear with pressure. By contrast, hives (0.5 -1.0 cm) are bigger, redder and will blanche with pressure. Later in the illness, the victim may even become disoriented or confused. A victim may say their headache is different from any other headache they've experienced or much more intense than a usual headache.

Meningitis is extremely rare, said Joffe. The germ for meningitis cannot last long outside the body and is spread between people by coughing, sneezing or kissing. But despite the rarity of the disease, Hopkins health officials are asking students and employees to err on the conservative side--if they have the slightest concern that they are experiencing a symptom of meningococcal meningitis, or have had any intimate contact with anyone diagnosed with meningitis, to immediately call the Student Health and Wellness Center or Occupational Health Services.

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