Two Columbia Students Diagnosed with Meningococcal Disease

Columbia University administrators have recently announced that there have been two diagnosed cases of Meningococcal disease, a viral or bacterial inflammation of membranes around the spinal cord and brain, at its School of International and Public Affairs. Both students are being treated in Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital.

According to federal law, Columbia is required to disclose cases of meningitis due it being a possible public health risk, according to the Columbia Spectator.

The most common form of Meningococcal disease is Meningitis B, which is most commonly spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Individuals who are at an increased risk of contracting the disease include infants, adolescents, young adults and individuals near an outbreak.

Both New York State law and Columbia University policies do not require college students receive a meningitis vaccination prior to enrollment. However, the state does require all university students receive information about the vaccine from their institution and Columbia prohibits students from registering for courses until they have submitted evidence of receiving a Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccination and have made a decision regarding the meningitis vaccination.

Although students may receive vaccinations around the ages of 11, 12 and 16, they likely do not protect them from Meningitis B vaccinations were licensed in 2014 and 2015 and don’t give immediate protection to the individual but help build long-term immunity to the disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two diagnosed cases of meningitis could qualify as a public health crisis depending on the population size.

Dr. Melanie Bernitz, associate vice president and medical director of Columbia Health, recently sent out an email to the Columbia Community addressing the diagnoses.

“We understand the great concern this causes. We are sharing information through this letter and the attached fact sheet to ensure that you understand the nature of this illness and the limited ways that transmission can occur, and also so you are fully aware of what we are doing to protect the health of our community,” Bernitz said. “In speaking with them today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials recommend that activities on the Columbia University campus continue as normal.”

The email contained information about the disease, symptoms, vaccines and the potential for exposure to the community as well as some helpful precautions to prevent people from contracting the disease. To read Bernitz’s email in its entirety, please click here.

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