Rare meningitis strain kills student at Drexel University

PHILADELPHIA, March 14 Fri Mar 14, 2014 3:40pm EDT

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PHILADELPHIA, March 14 (Reuters) - Drexel University confirmed on Friday that a student died this week from the rare strain of meningitis that hit Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara last fall.

Stephanie Ross, 19, a mechanical engineering major from the Pittsburgh area, was found unresponsive in her room at Phi Mu sorority last week, according to a letter sent to the university community by school President John Fry. Lab tests confirmed that the rare "serogroup B" strain was responsible for her death, the university said in a statement.

Drexel, located in downtown Philadelphia, is tracking down anyone who had recent contact with Ross in an effort to provide prophylactic antibiotics to ward off infection, school officials said in a statement.

Ross recently attended a regional officer training conference for the Phi Mu sorority. The sorority's national chapter said in a statement that it has contacted other conference attendees.

Meningitis is generally spread through close personal contact such as kissing, sharing drinks or coughing. Most college students are required to get a meningitis vaccination, but that does not protect against this particular strain.

After eight students were infected at Princeton University, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November allowed the school to import a vaccine that is not approved in the United States but is licensed in Europe and Australia.

In February, students at the University of California at Santa Barbara began receiving the vaccine - known as Bexsero - after an outbreak sickened four and led to one student having a foot amputated.

No one died at either school.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 160 serotype B infections in the United States every year.

Sunil Shah, 19, a biomedical engineering student at Drexel, said students on Friday were made aware of the death and the risk to those who were in contact with Ross, but were going about their daily business.

"I know the school is taking it seriously because they've sent several emails," he said. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Matthew Lewis)

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