A staff member at Binghamton University has been hospitalized after contracting Neisseria meningitidis, a bacteria that can cause meningococcal meningitis.
The staff member may have been contagious for 10 to 12 days, potentially exposing students, faculty and staff to the infection, according to a Dateline addition released on Sept. 27.
Although the affected person does not have meningitis, the bacteria can invade the body after infecting the skin, entering the bloodstream and impacting the nervous system. Those suffering from meningococcal meningitis experience swelling and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illness can be fatal if not treated promptly. It is relatively rare, with about 370 cases in the United States in 2016, when the illness reached a historic low. Approximately 20 percent of people with the illness experience complications from it, which can include permanent deafness and neurological problems, according to the CDC.
The bacteria can be spread through saliva and mouth-to-mouth contact, but not through casual contact. Additionally, it is not airborne, and according to the CDC, the bacteria are not as contagious as viruses that cause the cold or flu. According to the Dateline statement, the University is working to ensure anyone at high risk of contracting the infection receives precautionary medical care and antibiotics.
“Those requiring medical attention have been contacted directly and advised of what to do,” the statement read. “If you have not been contacted, you are not at increased risk.”
Schools and colleges are especially susceptible to outbreaks of the bacteria, as they often have large populations of people coming in close contact with one another. Currently, Oregon State University, Amherst College, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Smith College, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College are battling meningitis outbreaks.
Richard Moose, medical director of Decker Student Health Services Center, said the chances of seeing an outbreak on campus are low. Nevertheless, Moose said he is working with the University, the Broome County Health Department and the New York State Department of Health to ensure precautions, including contacting people who were in direct contact with the staff member and may be at a higher risk of contracting the bacteria, are taken.
“One component of that is making the University community aware of the situation so they report any concerns,” Moose wrote. “Everyone at increased risk has been contacted and given a medication to help prevent them from getting the infection.”
Students, faculty or staff who notice symptoms of the infection, which include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, confusion, nausea, red or purple rash and sensitivity to light, should immediately seek medical attention at the nearest emergency room.