Case of meningitis reported on campus

Lab results still pending, but student begins treatments

| Student Life Staff

A student living in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter house who may have contracted meningococcal meningitis, a contagious condition, should be sent home healthy soon with no visible side effects, according to Jordan Roberts, the fraternity’s president.

A University-wide e-mail sent out Friday afternoon notified the campus of the student’s reported infection. The University is not releasing the student’s name, and has not sent out another notification since Friday.

But Roberts said that the student will return to campus life soon and that his fraternity brothers and visitors to the house stand no risk of contracting the disease.

“It’s of no risk or no consequence at this point,” Roberts said. “The bacteria that it could be contracted from is very, very short-lived outside the host so once the student was taken to the hospital there was no risk to anyone coming in the house.”

Roberts added that even so, Aramark disinfected the house and the University gave residents a strong antibiotic to counteract any potential contagion.

In addition to house brothers, the patient and other members of the campus community who were in close contact with him during the 10 days before Friday were notified and are undergoing preventive medical treatment at Student Health Services (SHS).

The University does not require students to be vaccinated against meningitis. Even so, it is likely that a very high percentage of University students have been vaccinated because it is common and required in many states.

A viral or bacterial infection, meningococcal meningitis is an infection of the fluid in a person’s spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain.

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious and potentially fatal infection. Whether the infection is fatal depends on how quickly the patient receives the appropriate treatment, according to Lawrence.

Meningococcal bacteria are transmitted from person to person in droplets of respiratory or throat secretions, through activities such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone or sharing food or drink. Those who have had casual contact with the student, such as fellow classmates, are not at risk.

“This is not highly contagious, so it requires quite a bit of contact to go from person to person,” said Steven Lawrence, an assistant professor of medicine in the infectious disease department at Washington University’s Barnes-Jewish Medical Center.

Meningococcal meningitis can only be transmitted from close person-to-person contact, not from the environment, so the fraternity house would not constitute a risk to visitors.

According to University spokeswoman Joni Westerhouse, the final determination of whether the student has contracted meningitis will depend on pending lab results.

Lawrence explained that in confirmed cases of meningococcal meningitis, the bacteria grow in a culture obtained either from the blood or the spinal fluid.

In a suspected case like this one, the blood and spinal fluid samples do not form cultures, but the patient’s symptoms suggest an infection.

Young adults, according to Lawrence, are at the highest risk of contracting the disease.

“[Groups of young adults] are oftentimes a large number of people from all over the country, coming together in a relatively confined space,” Lawrence said.

Students and staff members who believe they may be at risk are instructed to contact SHS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include high fever, headache and stiff neck, as well as nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness.

With additional reporting by Ben Sales

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe