Serogroup B implicated in Drexel U meningitis death

Drexel University
Drexel University

Courtesy of Drexel University

Pennsylvania health officials have confirmed serogroup B in the bacterial meningitis death of a sophomore at Drexel University, the third college to report an infection from the serogroup that isn't covered by meningococcal vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Initial tests confirmed bacterial meningitis, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. Jeff Moran, spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, told CIDRAP News that Pennsylvania's public health lab determined that the isolate is serogroup B.

Serogroup B has also been linked to outbreaks at Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

The 19-year-old woman was found unresponsive in her room by her sorority housemates on Mar 10, and she died at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center the same day, according to a Mar 11 letter posted on Drexel's Web site by its president, John Fry.

Fry's statement said the school was approaching the illness as a suspected meningitis case and had taken steps to protect students.

Drexel's student health service, in a notice on its Web portal, is recommending antibiotic prophylaxis for individuals who had close or intimate contact with the woman on or after Mar 3. It noted that all Drexel students living in campus housing are required by state law to be immunized with the quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine. However, the vaccine does not cover the serogroup B strain.

Previous outbreaks

A meningitis outbreak involving serogroup B at Princeton University prompted federal health officials in November to approve special use of an unlicensed serogroup B vaccine—Bexsero, made by Novartis—as part of Princeton's response. In early February, health officials took the same steps to allow the vaccine to be used to curb UCSB's outbreak.

Princeton's serogroup B meningococcal outbreak sickened eight students, and a similar event at UCSB sickened four, permanently disabling one of them. Health officials have said analysis of the strains shows that the Princeton and UCSB outbreaks aren't related.

Bexsero is already licensed for use in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Novartis has said it is in talks with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to find a licensing pathway for the vaccine to fill unmet public health needs.

The company has completed phase 1 and 2 clinical studies for Bexsero in the United States and is continuing to work with the FDA to advance a single vaccine to protect against the five most common meningitis serogroups (A, B, C, Y, and W).

See also:

Mar 13 AP story

Mar 11 Drexel University letter

Drexel University student health information

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