Santa Clara County public health officials have confirmed on Feb. 3 two cases of meningococcal meningitis among Santa Clara University students, urging others in the campus to get precautionary vaccines. Meningococcal meningitis can sometimes lead to a deadly infection of the spinal cord and brain.

One of the two undergraduate students from the prominent Jesuit institution tested positive for meningococcal meningtis and apparently contracted the serogroup B strain of the illness. The second undergraduate student was discovered to have a bloodstream infection called meningococcemia or septicemia, health officials said.

"We are deeply concerned about the welfare of our students," said Santa Clara University President Father Michael Engh. "Our hearts and prayers go out to our students."

Experts say many college students are not protected against the serogroup B strain because vaccines for it were only approved in late 2014 and early 2015.

The California-based Catholic university learned of the meningococcal meningitis infections when the first student became violently ill on Jan. 31 and was admitted to the hospital.

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health officer, said the second student also felt ill on Sunday but waited until Feb. 1 to go to the hospital. "Both are doing well," she said.

The two students are members of two different fraternities in the campus. According to the university's school paper, the first student is a pledge at Pi Kappa Alpha.

Connor Powell, a university senior and the president of the fraternity, said the first student was spending time with them but quickly became ill after several hours.

"I was so shocked at what happened because he was all smiles while we were playing basketball on Saturday afternoon," said Powell. "As a fraternity, we are devastated that such a horrible thing could happen to such a great guy. He is in our thoughts and prayers."

Meanwhile, Cody said the cluster of meningococcal meningitis infections had been evolving over the last 72 hours since their discovery. She said it was a novel and dynamic situation.

What You Need To Know About Meningococcal Meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacteria common in Africa and it targets the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain to become inflamed, the World Health Organization said. It is carried in the throat and back of the nose. It can be transmitted by mucus or saliva during close contact such as sneezing, coughing, sharing eating utensils, and kissing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 15 percent of people affected by meningococcal meningitis develop disabilities such as deafness, neurological problems or brain damage. More than 600 people in the United States contract the illness each year, the CDC said.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include sudden high fever, irritability, stiffness in the neck, vomiting or nausea, drowsiness, difficulty waking up, joint pain, confusion or mental changes, fast breathing, or discomfort in bright lights.

Aside from that, a reddish or purple rash is an important symptom to watch out for. If the rash does not turn white when pressed against glass, it may be a sign of blood poisoning. This is a medical emergency.

University and public health officials are urging anyone with these symptoms to immediately seek for medical help. They also recommend students on campus to get Trumenba or Bexsero vaccination, and will be offering them for free on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5.

Photo : Travis Wise | Flickr

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