Local public health officials remove ‘outbreak’ designation, caution vigilance remains necessary

picture of meningococcal B under a microscope

On Friday, Nov. 23, Benton County health officials removed the meningococcal B disease outbreak designation for Oregon State University in Corvallis. The outbreak designation was in place since March 2017 as a result of several confirmed cases of meningococcal B disease afflicting students enrolled at OSU’s Corvallis campus.

The first two cases of meningococcal B disease at OSU occurred in November 2016. A third case occurred in March 2017 and a fourth case in October 2017. The most recent case—the fifth—associated with the outbreak at Oregon State was identified on Nov. 22, 2017. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the designation be in force for a calendar year from the date of the last case. “We are relieved that no further cases of meningococcal B disease involving Oregon State Corvallis students have been reported,” said Steve Clark, OSU vice president for University Relations and Marketing. “We believe that public health education and students being vaccinated for meningococcal B disease over the past helped to prevent serious illness within our campus community.”

Oregon State will no longer require students under age 26 who are new to the university starting the winter 2019 term to have the meningococcal B vaccine. However, the vaccination requirement remains for students under 26 who were new to the university during the fall 2018 term. Although the vaccination is no longer required, the university encourages students to talk with their healthcare providers to determine whether they should get the vaccination. Information about the disease and OSU requirements are available on the Student Health Services website.

“We have been investigating and responding to this disease outbreak for two years,” said Charlie Fautin, Benton County Public Health deputy director. “I think it is safe to say that all of us involved in managing the incidence of meningococcal B disease at OSU breathed a collective sigh of relief on November 22nd .”

“While we are relieved to remove the outbreak designation at OSU, it is important to remember that our community has experienced several other cases of meningococcal disease unrelated to ongoing outbreaks. So vigilance is important in maintaining a healthy campus and Corvallis-area community.”

All members of the OSU community should continue to be vigilant in monitoring symptoms of meningococcal disease. These include sudden onset of high fever, along with headache, exhaustion, nausea, rash, stiff neck, vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone displaying these symptoms should be evaluated at a health care provider's office, urgent care medical clinic or emergency room immediately, as the disease can become life threatening very rapidly. Fautin said sometimes symptoms from colds and flu can complicate the diagnosis of meningococcal disease.

While meningococcal disease is not highly contagious, like colds and flu it is transmitted through direct contact with droplets from coughing or sneezing; other discharges from the nose or throat; and by sharing of eating and drinking utensils or smoking devices; or through close personal contact. Customarily, individuals who have spent at least four hours over a week in close, face-to-face association with a person suffering from meningococcal disease before the illness started, are considered at-risk of catching meningococcal disease.

Standard measures to prevent colds and flu, such as hand washing and not sharing lip balm, food, eating utensils, drinking containers or smoking devices, will also help prevent the spread of meningococcal disease.

The best way to prevent meningococcal disease is by vaccination. Public health officials strongly encourage adolescents 11–18 years of age to get the quadrivalent meningococcal vaccination, which provides protection for 4 other types of meningococcal disease. Other ways to lower the risk of infection include:

  • Providing vaccines to children and young adults.
  • Preventing respiratory tract infections by receiving an influenza vaccine and avoiding close contact with people with coughs and colds.
  • Engaging in frequent hand-washing.
  • Not sharing cups, water bottles, eating utensils or smoking devices.
  • Not smoking tobacco or marijuana. Studies have shown that smokers are 3-4 times more likely to contract the disease.
  • Not letting children be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke.

Contact

Charlie Fautin, Benton County Health Department, 541-766-6840 or 541-602-1820; charlie.fautin@co.benton.or.us

Steve Clark, Oregon State University, 541-737-3808 or 503-502-8217; steve.clark@oregonstate.edu