Federal health officials have agreed to import a meningitis vaccine approved in Europe and Australia but not the U.S. as officials at Princeton University consider measures to stop the spread of the disease on the Ivy League campus.
The Food and Drug Administration this week approved importing Bexsero for possible use on Princeton’s campus, said Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Princeton officials confirmed the school’s seventh case of meningitis in 2013 this week and a spokesman said trustees will discuss the issue this weekend.
No vaccine for use against the type B meningococcal bacteria that caused the cases at Princeton is available in the U.S., Reynolds said, adding that the decision to receive the vaccine would be optional if Princeton and CDC officials agree to offer it to students.
Bacterial meningitis can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The disease is fairly rare in the United States. Those who get it develop symptoms quickly and can die in a couple of days. Survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.
The bacteria are spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing, and most cases occur in previously healthy children and young adults. The disease can easily spread in crowded conditions, such as dorm rooms. All students living in dorms are required by state law to have a licensed meningitis vaccine, but it does not protect against type B.
The school is telling students to wash their hands, cover their coughs and not to share items such as drinking glasses and eating utensils.