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Health Officials Confident After 1,800 San Diego State Students Treated To Prevent Meningitis

San Diego State University students line up to receive preventative antibioti...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: San Diego State University students line up to receive preventative antibiotics after a classmate was hospitalized with meningitis, Sept. 6, 2018.

Health officials believe they have treated all San Diego State University students who may have been in contact with a classmate who was hospitalized for bacterial meningitis last week. The school, with help from the county, administered preventative antibiotics to 1,840 students.

“That means that we nearly had 100 percent of the people we wanted to have come in,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s lead epidemiologist. “That’s outstanding, and the student support was wonderful.”

The pill given to students can eradicate the bacteria responsible for meningitis from the nose and throat if taken within 24 to 36 hours of contact with an infected person.

On Wednesday, the school announced a student had been hospitalized with the disease, which causes swelling of the brain and can be deadly. She remained hospitalized Friday afternoon; the county did not provide an update Monday.

The woman participated alongside hundreds of peers in a sorority recruiting event shortly before becoming ill, triggering the school’s robust response. Hundreds of women waited in line for hours Thursday and Friday to receive the antibiotic.

McDonald said there are no other known cases of meningitis at SDSU, but that the county continues to monitor the situation.

In 2014, SDSU freshman Sara Stelzer died from meningitis. At the time, a vaccine against serotype B meningococcal disease — the kind of meningitis that killed Stelzer and sickened a student this year — was not approved for use in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since approved two vaccines against the strain, Bexsero and Trumenba.

Some schools are beginning to require the vaccine as a condition of enrollment. SDSU does not require it, nor a more common vaccine against other strains of meningitis often given to teens with their Tdap booster.

McDonald recommended families talk to their doctors about these optional immunizations for college-bound teens anyway.

“People are coming from all over the state and all over the country and mixing together very closely, and people get exposed to viruses and bacteria that they’ve never been exposed to before,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t single out San Diego State as having a unique problem. This is something that happens at large colleges and universities across the country, and it’s just unfortunate that we’ve had another case here with the memory of that other case four years ago in people’s minds.”

Symptoms of the disease include sensitivity to light and noise, headache, stiff neck, fever and rash.

Health officials believe they have treated all San Diego State University students who may have been in contact with a classmate who was hospitalized for bacterial meningitis last week.

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