Students were on high alert after an email sent by Campus Health and Wellbeing the morning of Jan. 20 warned about a case of meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection that causes meningitis. Later that day, they announced that anyone who attended social events hosted by Alpha Phi, Delta Chi or Delta Sigma Phi Jan. 14-15, as well as people affiliated with the groups, had an increased risk of being exposed.
Alpha Phi, Delta Chi and Delta Sigma Phi all declined to comment.
As of Monday, Jan. 30, San Luis Obispo Public Health notified Campus Health and Wellbeing that the incubation period for new cases of meningococcal disease is over.
Neisseria meningitidis is the bacteria that caused meningitis in the case on campus, according to Campus Health and Wellbeing Medical Director Dr. Aaron Baker. A San Luis Obispo County public health official notified Cal Poly of the indexed infection and provided additional updates as more information became available in helping Cal Poly address the infection risk. Ultimately, only one case of the disease was diagnosed.
“Meningococcal disease is quite dangerous due to the rapidly progressive and potentially fatal nature of the infection,” Baker said. “In worst case scenarios, the disease can be rapidly fatal, starting off with flu-like symptoms and worsening to death.”
To combat the spread of meningococcal disease, any student who thought they were exposed could receive a prophylactic antibiotic medication at a free Campus Health and Wellbeing clinic or from any local pharmacy. In total, 487 students received the preventative medication.
On Feb. 2, 3 and 9, over 300 people received the meningococcal B vaccine. Campus Health and Wellbeing planned a second vaccine clinic on March 9 and 10 to either continue the series of vaccines or start if someone missed the first clinic.
Baker believes that wide use of the ACYW meningococcal vaccine has decreased risk of disease from those bacterial strains.
Baker noted that significant exposure in terms of spreading the disease includes intimate contacts such as sharing food or drink or being in close contact — less than three feet — for more than eight hours.
“Any party where you are closely in contact with other people [sharing food, drink, saliva] is [an] excellent place to transmit,” Baker said.
Even when it is treated, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 infected people out of 100. Furthermore, the disease can lead to lifelong disabilities.
Campus Health and Wellbeing monitored five cases of viral meningitis in Cal Poly students in 2015. Viral meningitis, however, can be treated and is less aggressive than this year’s bacterial case.