A Philadelphia college student who died of the same type of meningitis that caused an outbreak at Princeton University had been in close contact with Princeton students about a week before getting sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, tests confirmed that Stephanie Ross, a Drexel University sophomore from Pittsburgh, died of the same type of meningitis that caused an outbreak at Princeton University in New Jersey, suggesting the strain might still exist on the Ivy League campus despite a massive vaccination effort.
Ross died on March 10.
Members of Ross' sorority say she attended a regional officer training conference on March 1 and came into contact with several sorority sisters, including some from outside of our area.
The university offered prophylactic antibiotics at the student health center on Market Street for any students who were in close contact with Ross.
Any students feeling meningitis-like symptoms are asked to contact the Student Health Center at 215-220-4700.
Most colleges, including Drexel, require meningitis vaccinations for students. But the rare "serogroup B" that hit Princeton is not covered by American vaccines.
More than 5,000 members of the Princeton community, mostly undergraduate students, received inoculations for the meningitis B strain, but vaccinated individuals can still carry the bacteria in their throats and transmit it to others, the CDC said in a statement. The agency urged vigilance in preventing new cases.
"Although transmission is from person-to-person, this organism is not highly contagious and requires sharing respiratory and oral secretions to spread," the statement said.
The CDC said there is no outbreak at Drexel, which is about 40 miles from Princeton.
Meningitis causes swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord and is fairly rare in the U.S. But the illness develops quickly and, left untreated, can be fatal within a couple of days. Symptoms include a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and confusion.
Drexel officials said they have provided preventive antibiotics to everyone who came into close contact with Ross, a mechanical engineering major who was found unresponsive at her sorority house.
The Princeton outbreak began in March 2013 and sickened seven students and a campus visitor. All have recovered.
The most recent case was identified on Nov. 21. The university offered the B strain vaccine to eligible members of the campus community a couple of weeks later, and about 5,300 students and staff got the first of two shots. The second dose was administered last month.
A statement from Princeton released Tuesday urged people not share drinking glasses, eating utensils, smoking materials and other items. New Jersey health officials have said there is no need to cancel any school events or activities.
The vaccine, Bexsero, made by Switzerland-based Novartis, is approved for use in Europe, Australia and Canada but not yet for general use in the United States. The CDC recommended the unusual step of allowing Princeton to offer it, a move approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The same day as Ross' post-mortem diagnosis, NBC10.com learned an 8-year-old from Montgomery County, Pa. has been hospitalized meningococcal infection, the bacteria which can lead to meningitis.
A 3rd grade student at Skippack Elementary School, officials said the child's infection has prompted them to disinfect the entire 775 student school in Collegeville, Pa. They're also working with county health officials to identify students and staff who may have come in close contact with the 8-year-old.
Ross' death hit Drexel's Greek Life community hard. An email announcing her death was first shared through a Greek Life email chain shortly after 11 p.m. Monday.
Our deepest condolences and prayers are with Stephanie Ross's family, friends, and the sisters of @PhiMuDrexel tonight. — Drexel Phi Psi (@duphipsi) March 11, 2014
Ross' sorority big sister Kris Trina turned to Facebook to remember her friend.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
"I don't have any words to describe what I am feeling right now, but know that I love you and I hope that you are in heaven filled with cats and all of the other weird things that we love."
Ross graduated from Upper St. Clair High School outside Pittsburgh where she played softball.
Pictured: Stephanie Ross