On Friday, March 5, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who have been on Ohio University?s Athens campus to assess recent cases of bacterial meningitis, reclassified the cases as an outbreak. The cases had previously been classified as a cluster.
In an e-mail sent on Saturday to students and their families, Ryan Lombardi, dean of students, said, "We have continued to work toward understanding why we have seen multiple cases of this disease impact our students in the past two academic years."
Ohio University has been working closely with federal and state health resources to provide vaccinations and prophylaxis antibiotics to students who lived with or had classes with students who were infected with bacterial meningitis Type B.
According to Charles Hammer, administrator with the Athens City-County Health Department, in the last calendar year there have been seven instances of bacterial meningitis Type B at Ohio University. There was also one case in 2008. In all infections, each student carried a strain of the bacterium with the same genetic profile.
Hammer explained, "The organisms are all genetically identical. ... They?re clones of each other."
An outbreak, according to Hammer, normally consists of three instances of a disease in a four-month period. An exception to this classification was made in the case of Ohio University due to the unusual genetic similarity of the infections.
Currently 68 percent of Ohio University students are vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. But, according to Lombardi?s e-mail, "Starting in the fall 2010, this vaccination will be required of all Ohio University students."
The vaccine is not totally effective, but it does greatly reduce a recipient?s chances of catching the disease. The vaccine protects against four types of meningitis, but not Type B.
In the e-mail Lombardi reiterated the symptoms of bacterial meningitis -- severe headache, stiff neck, fever, disorientation, lethargy, nausea and vomiting ? and encouraged anyone who thinks they may have it to seek medical attention immediately.
Hammer agreed. "If someone were to exhibit symptoms that were, even in the least, indicative of this bug," he said, "the threshold of suspicion is low now. The illness would be treated aggressively and looked at closely so there are no complications."
Students, parents, faculty and staff members with further questions can visit the Health Alerts Web site that provides more information on bacterial meningitis, its symptoms and prevention. On March 2 Lombardi hosted a streaming audio conference for parents to share more news and details about bacterial meningitis.