New vaccine protects students from meningitis serogroup B

Brooklyn Dippo | The USD Vista | News Editor

Meningitis B is a rare but deadly disease that threatens young adults and is not protected against by routine vaccinations. Luckily for students at the University of San Diego a new vaccine that does protect against serogroup B meningitis is available at the Student Health Center.

There are five main groups of bacteria that cause meningitis. While universities require students to have the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), it only protects against serogroups A, C, W, and Y. This makes communities susceptible to outbreaks of meningitis B more than any other type.

Meningitis bacteria is spread through respiratory secretions, meaning that students can contract the bacteria from kissing, sharing cups or utensils, or simply from living in close quarters. The symptoms are flu-like but the internal attack is far worse. The bacteria infect the meninges, the cells surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis B kills 10 percent of those infected within 48 hours and leaves others with brain damage, hearing loss, loss of limbs, and kidney disease.

In the fall of 2014, a first year at San Diego State University, Sara Stelzer went to the hospital for flu-like symptoms and died less than two days later of meningitis B. The San Diego community reacted quickly with screenings and antibiotics for any students that may have been exposed at SDSU or elsewhere. Fortunately, no other cases were traced back to Stelzer.

Following this outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine Trumenba with the accelerated approval regulatory pathway that reduces the time to make the vaccination available to the public. Trumenba was the first FDA approved vaccine for preventing meningitis B.

The vaccination is not required like the MCV4 vaccine is, and is not as widely available yet, but it is offered  at the USD Student Health Center.

Pamela Sikes, the director of the Student Health Center, recommends that students get vaccinated because of the severity of the disease.

“Last year Trumenba became readily available and recommended routinely for those at increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal infections,” said Sikes. “There are a few medical conditions that put one at increased risk. For our university population, students are considered at increased risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak.”

Trumenba is a three dose series of vaccinations and costs $130 per dose. The cost may be covered by the student’s health insurance. Though pricy, the vaccinations are very effective and potentially lifesaving.

The Student Health Center also recommends that students receive a booster MCV4 vaccine if their initial vaccination was before the age of 16. While the vaccine is the surest way for students to protect themselves from Meningitis B, washing hands and avoiding sharing cups and utensils can also help lessen the risk of infection.