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Students vaccinated following suspicious death of freshman

April 3, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Sindecuse Health Center is vaccinating students on a walk-in basis following the death Wednesday, April 2, of a freshman who exhibited meningitis-like symptoms.

According to Dr. Lisa Marshall, Sindecuse medical director, about 30 students were vaccinated late Wednesday evening at the center following a meeting in Harvey Hall to alert students that the 19-year-old Harvey resident had died at his home in Holland.

An autopsy and follow-up laboratory tests were inconclusive in pinpointing the cause of death. Because the symptoms displayed by the student prior to his death are consistent with those of bacterial meningitis, the University is acting on the advice of county health department officials and taking steps to identify and ensure those who had close personal contact with the student are treated with a course of antibiotics intended to prevent infection.

Those considered part of the close circle of people who should receive such antibiotic treatment include roommates and other very close associates--estimated to be only a handful of people. They are being contacted by staff members of Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services, who are working in consultation with Ottawa County health officials. Sindecuse medical personnel are treating those close associates as well as counseling other students who have questions about their risk level.

University officials began working late in the day April 2 to alert the campus community to the incident and provide information about prevention. The Harvey Hall meeting was held to alert other residents to the development. This is believed to be the first time since 1991 the University has dealt with a possible meningitis case.

According to Marshall, meningitis vaccinations are strongly recommended for students, since young people living in close proximity to each other are routinely considered to be among those at highest risk for meningitis. The University strongly recommends that students be vaccinated before entering college. The fact that a student has died and meningitis may be the cause is a reminder of the importance of vaccines to prevent infection.

Faculty and staff members, she says, are not considered to be at risk and vaccines are not recommended for them, although anyone can be vaccinated up to age 55.

Bacterial meningitis is an acute bacterial disease that results in an infection of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Vaccinations are the best form of prevention and are recommended for those at highest risk for infection. The University routinely recommends such vaccinations for its students. WMU's Sindecuse Health Center will be offering a series of vaccination clinics in the coming weeks and will be encouraging students who have not already been vaccinated to do so.

Early symptoms of the disease include sudden fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and possible rash. The incubation period is four to 10 days after close contact with an infected person. Close contact includes such activities as sharing food and drinks and kissing. Nationally, nearly 3,000 cases of bacterial meningitis are recorded each year, with about 10 percent of those cases proving fatal.

WMU's Sindecuse Health Center personnel are available to answer questions about this incident and ways of preventing infection and can be reached at (269) 387-3290. Kalamazoo County Health and Human Services can be reached at (269) 373-5267.

Detailed information on meningitis and vaccines to prevent it can be found online at www.wmich.edu/shc/news/news.htm.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
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