Meningitis fear grips Princeton

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Fearing the spread of a meningitis outbreak that has caused seven people at Princeton University to be hospitalized this year, university officials have warned students to stop sharing drinks and to avoid kissing.

Although the previous six patients have recovered from the disease, in which bacteria cause infections that can maim or kill people within hours, the university's leaders are considering a stronger step to halt the outbreak: distributing a vaccine not approved for use in the United States.

Under New Jersey law, meningitis vaccinations are already required for almost all undergraduates at Princeton and other four-year colleges in the state. But the strain of the illness at Princeton -- serogroup B -- is not covered by the vaccine that is widely available in the United States and that protects against most strains of the disease.

Another vaccine, Bexsero, does, but has been approved only by authorities in Europe and Australia.

In response to the Princeton outbreak, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received special permission from the Food and Drug Administration to import Bexsero.

The university's trustees could decide as early as today whether to distribute Bexsero, said Martin Mbugua, a university spokesman.

Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman, said the vaccination would be voluntary.


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