Vaccine possible in Cal campus meningitis outbreak

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State and federal officials are considering whether to provide students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with an unlicensed vaccine to prevent further spread of a bacterial meningitis outbreak on campus, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The Los Angeles Times said government health officials and the university are working together to determine whether the vaccine Bexsero would be effective against the type of meningitis that sickened four students in November.

"The university is actively taking all of the necessary steps to ensure access to the unlicensed vaccine if it is recommended by health and medical experts," the school said in a statement.

The move comes after Princeton University received permission from the Food and Drug Administration to give Bexsero to students and others deemed to be at risk on its campus. Eight students at the New Jersey school fell ill after infection with a similar, but not identical, strain of the bacterium that sickened the California students.

In Santa Barbara, three of the students who fell ill have recovered fully. The fourth had both feet amputated. No new cases have been diagnosed since Nov. 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

"We certainly hope that this outbreak is over but are working under the assumption that more cases may occur," the agency wrote.

Meningococcal disease strikes quickly and can be deadly, causing an inflammation of the brain lining known as meningitis and multiple complications once it infects the bloodstream.

Symptoms include fever, headaches, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness and a blotchy rash. It is able to spread among people in dormitories and other crowded settings.

Before it might be approved for use at the Santa Barbara school, scientists will have to determine if Bexsero will work against the particular microbe detected in the four students there.

Two other California universities reported meningitis illnesses this week. Neither has been linked to the Santa Barbara outbreak, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The University of California, Riverside, reported Monday that a staff member who worked with students had developed suspected bacterial meningitis. California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo reported a new student case of viral meningitis Thursday.

Viral meningitis is more common, and usually less severe, than bacterial meningitis.

After going through an approval process that lasted several weeks, Princeton provided the first of two Bexsero doses to 5,268 people this week, spokesman Martin A. Mbugua said. Second doses of the vaccine, needed for maximum protection against the illness, will be available in February.