UC Santa Barbara students say a fourth case of meningitis confirmed on campus has left them feeling unsettled and paranoid.
Four undergraduate students, three male and one female, became infected last month. Two of the students have recovered and are back in class, while a third is on the way to recovery, said campus spokesman George Foulsham.
One of the students, Aaron Loy, suffered a more severe case and both of his feet were amputated, according to an account by his family on the website CaringBridge, a nonprofit charity that offers families facing serious medical conditions personal Web pages.
“It’s such an obscure, scary disease, so a lot of students are concerned,” said Jonathan Abboud, 21, a political science major who is the student government president. “A lot of students aren’t sharing drinks and food as much as they used to because that’s one less thing to get us sick.... It’s on everyone’s mind.”
Olivia Ravasio is wiping countertops more often and washing dishes thoroughly in the sorority house near campus that she shares with 15 women.
“The paranoia is absolutely terrible,” Ravasio, a 20-year-old senior, said in an email. “Wake up and your neck hurts. On any other day, you think nothing of it, but now it’s like, ‘Should I go to the hospital? Why does my head hurt? Better safe than sorry?’”
Students were being urged to avoid social gatherings, while sororities and fraternities were advised against holding parties and other events to avoid transmission of the meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause long-term damage and death.
Meanwhile, officials at Princeton University were battling an outbreak of a similar bacteria contracted by eight students at the Ivy League campus since March.
There is no treatment licensed in the U.S. to combat the type of bacteria that has struck the two campuses. Because of the seriousness of the situation, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials moved to import a vaccine licensed in Europe and Australia and are recommending that all Princeton undergraduates, as well as graduate students living in undergraduate dorms and others, be inoculated.
Tom Clark, chief of the meningitis branch at the CDC, said it hasn’t been determined whether such measures were needed in Santa Barbara. He said most outbreaks were limited to three or four cases and stressed that the general population faces little risk.
Health officials are investigating the source of the outbreak, but there is no certainty that the cause will be pinpointed.
The Santa Barbara campus previously announced that it was providing preventive antibiotics to more than 500 students identified as close contacts of the students who became ill. The university also is cleansing and disinfecting residence halls, recreation centers and sports facilities.
Abboud said students were working to have the university provide extra supplies of hand sanitizers for the library and other public areas likely to be gathering spots before final exams.