UMass Amherst declares meningitis outbreak after 2 confirmed cases

A Massachusetts university has declared a meningitis outbreak after two students tested positive for the bacterial illness. The University Massachusetts Amherst said Tuesday that the two students were not in close contact, and confirmed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating.

“Following additional, extensive testing of the two student cases of meningococcal disease on campus, University Health Services (UHS), in concert with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has determined that because the two cases originated from a single strain of genetically identical organisms, this meningococcal disease should be considered an outbreak,” George Corey, executive director of University Health Services, said in an email.

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The bacteria can cause an infection in the brain or spinal cord, and kills 10 to 15 percent of patients even after seeking medical treatment. The university said it is working to inform students on prevention, as well as how to recognize symptoms of meningitis and where to seek vaccinations, Lowell Sun Online reported.

The first case was confirmed Oct. 24, with the second occurring on Nov. 12. Since then, 1,400 vaccines have been administered to students, including the most at-risk populations such as undergraduates, graduates living in undergraduate housing, and students with pre-existing health conditions.

UMass Lowell has not had any reported or suspected cases.