Vaccines

Sixth Oregon college student stricken by meningococcal disease

A sixth University of Oregon student has contracted the potentially deadly meningococcal disease amid an outbreak that erupted in January, and more cases could emerge, public health officials said on Thursday.

Health officials said a 20-year-old college sophomore who lives off campus has been confirmed as having contracted meningococcemia, a bacterial precursor to meningitis that can also lead to damaging blood infections.

The student, who has not been named, was in stable condition and was expected to recover, according to Lane County Public Health officer Patrick Luedtke.

Five other students have contracted meningococcal disease since January, including an 18-year-old freshman, Lauren Jones, who died. Three of the stricken students recovered and are back on campus while a fourth suffered severe complications but is planning to return to school, health officials said.

Health officials are asking parents to urge students at the school in Eugene to get vaccinated over spring break. About 9,000 out of the university’s 22,000 students have been vaccinated, officials said.

“That leaves quite a few students still at risk. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see more cases of meningococcal disease,” said Paul Cieslak, medical director of infectious disease and immunization programs at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division.

The university quickly notified classmates and roommates of the latest student who contracted the disease, university spokeswoman Julie Brown said. The university health center and local pharmacies are providing vaccinations.

"No one should be complacent about this disease. University of Oregon undergraduates who have not been vaccinated are at risk of infection, serious illness and death,” Cieslak said in a statement.

But health officials said they are not suggesting all Lane County residents get vaccinated, and that the risk to the broader public was low, because the disease requires hours of close personal contact to spread.

Reactions to the disease vary, with some people recovering quickly while others experience more severe complications that could include deafness, loss of digits because of blood clots, and even death, officials said.