Last fall, there were two cases of invasive meningococcal disease and meningitis at UMass Amherst, and last week, a case was reported at Smith College. It is not known if these cases are related. In recent years, there have been outbreaks of invasive meningococcal disease at several colleges in the U.S.
The meningococcus strain in the UMass Amherst and Smith College cases is serotype B, which is not one of the four serotypes (A, C, W135, and Y) included in the meningococcal vaccine (brand names Menactra and Menveo) routinely given to adolescents and incoming college freshmen in the United States. Two vaccines for meningococcal type B are available (brand names Bexero and Trumenba) and may have been given to some college freshmen or others who are at higher risk.
"There have been no cases of invasive meningococcal serotype B at MIT or at other schools in the Boston area," notes MIT Medical Associate Medical Director Howard Heller, M.D., an infectious disease specialist. "However, we continue to monitor and address possible risks to our students, particularly those who might come in contact with students from affected colleges at athletic events."
MIT Director of Student Health Shawn Ferullo, M.D., has been in contact with MIT's sports medicine and athletic training staff about the recent cases in Western Massachusetts. "But, at this time, we do not believe there is any increased risk to the MIT community," Heller says. "We continually emphasize standard hygiene practices to minimize the risk of contagious diseases within our community, and we are not making any additional, special recommendations at this time. Whether on campus or away, we encourage people to wash their hands frequently and to avoid sharing food and drinks with others."
More detailed information about meningococcal disease, including symptoms, prevention, and the vaccines can be found in this fact sheet from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The meningococcal vaccines, including those for serotype B, are available at MIT Medical as well at commercial chain pharmacies in Massachusetts. We encourage people who have additional questions to contact their primary care providers directly or to call MIT Medical at 617-253-4481.