SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Health officials at a California university will start offering a vaccine against bacterial meningitis several months after an outbreak sickened four students.
Officials at the University of California, Santa Barbara said Friday that federal health regulators have approved the vaccine for use on campus, 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The vaccine is licensed for use overseas but is not yet approved for general use in the United States.
The school plans to hold a two-week vaccination clinic in late February for all undergraduate students to receive the first dose. Faculty, staff and graduate students who live in dorm-style residence halls are also urged to get the shot. Vaccines will be free.
“Students, including those who receive the vaccine, and other members of the university community are encouraged to continue to pay increased attention to personal hygienic practices,” such as not sharing drinking glasses, Dr. Mary Ferris, executive director of student health services, said in a statement.
The move comes after Princeton University last year received permission from the Food and Drug Administration to dole out the vaccine after seven students and a student visitor became infected. Nearly 5,300 people – or 90 percent of eligible students and staff at the New Jersey Ivy League school – chose to get immunized for the B strain of the meningitis bacteria.
In both cases, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the unusual step of recommending the vaccine for the campuses.
Last November, four students at UC Santa Barbara fell ill from a form of bacterial meningitis similar to the Princeton cases. Three recovered and the fourth had both feet amputated. No new cases have been diagnosed.
Bacterial meningitis can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, and can be fatal. Survivors can suffer mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.
The illness can be spread through kissing, coughing or lengthy contact. Symptoms include fever, headaches, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness and a blotchy rash. Dormitories and other crowded settings can make dangerous breeding grounds.
UC Santa Barbara plans to offer the second dose in the spring for maximum protection.