After Princeton University students received an imported vaccine to protect them against a specific strain of meningitis, parents of students at the University of California, Santa Barbara are asking why the vaccine hasn't been made available to them.
Both schools have had outbreaks of a rare strain of meningitis -- meningococcal type B. It has infected four students at UC Santa Barbara, and eight at Princeton. One Santa Barbara student was rushed to the hospital and had to have his feet amputated.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends that all adolescents receive a meningitis vaccination, there is no vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect against this strain of meningitis. A vaccine that was approved in Europe, Australia and Canada was imported, with FDA approval, specifically for the Princeton outbreak.
Leslie and Jeff Klonoff have two children studying at UC Santa Barbara and said they were upset that the vaccine was only being given to Princeton students.
"I'm very concerned and upset about CDC's response," Jeff Klonoff told ABC News. "In UCSB, there has been four [infections] in the last month. If there's an explanation for why they're treating them differently, they haven't conveyed that."
Leslie Klonoff said that UC Santa Barbara had done a good job of handling the outbreak, but that she still feared for her children.
"They're in a relatively enclosed community. It does cause concern," she said.
Health officials contend that they usually do not consider vaccination unless there is an ongoing threat, such as the outbreak at Princeton in which eight people have become infected since March.
"We consider vaccinating when there's a sustained outbreak and ongoing transmission, and it looks like there's a continuing risk for the students," said Dr. Thomas Clark, chief of the meningitis branch at the CDC. "If you look back at the meningitis [strain B] outbreaks we've seen, out of the 13 we looked at, 11 [outbreaks] were four cases or fewer."
Clark also said that the CDC would need to ensure that further tests were needed to make sure the vaccine would protect against the strain infecting UC Santa Barbara students.
Although students from both schools contracted meningococcal type B, CDC officials said the viruses had different genetic "fingerprints."
"All the data so far suggests that [the imported vaccine] would work against this strain, but then we [need to] test this actual bacteria that caused the cases," said Clark.
Additionally, Clark said the winter holiday break was helpful in disrupting social life that could lead to transmission.
As students finish final exams this week and head home, Clark said the long face-to-face intense contact common on college campuses would end.
"It spreads by person to person ... by close face-to-face contact. It's the kind of thing that older adolescents do," said Clark. "Disrupting those social networks is probably the best thing that can happen now."
Clark said the CDC would monitor the situation and would consider approving the vaccine for UC Santa Barbara if the outbreak worsens.
Medical experts said that since meningitis is not spread through casual contact the way a cold or flu is, it makes sense that the CDC has not immediately issued the vaccine to the UC Santa Barbara community.
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medical Center, said that meningitis outbreaks at universities rarely spread beyond the student body.
"At the moment, the public health response is not a shotgun response but a rifle response," said Schaffner. "[They're] targeting a population who is at risk."
Schaffner said that students who are experiencing severe headaches, fever and flu-like symptoms should see a doctor.
"Initially, it's a very deceptive infection. You feel flu-ey. You get tired and weak. The disease can progress very quickly," said Schaffner, who said people can go from flu symptoms to being unresponsive in hours. "You can get more fever and a stiff neck, and you may get a rash and may become confused and unaware. It can move very quickly and it is a frightening infection."
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