University of Oregon meningitis outbreak grows; student's father diagnosed

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - The father of a University of Oregon student has contracted the potentially deadly meningococcal disease amid an outbreak that started in January and has killed one student, bringing the total number of people infected to seven, state health officials said on Friday.

The 52-year-old man fell ill with meningococcemia, a bacterial precursor to meningitis, six weeks after the last on-campus infection, said Jason Davis, spokesman for Lane County Public Health. The university is in Eugene in Lane County.

“We are not excluding the possibility of another case a year down the road,” Davis said, adding that other universities across the country have seen outbreaks return after eight months or more without new diagnoses, and that the disease can remain dormant for as long as two years.

The man’s infection was traced to his May 2 visit with his undergraduate daughter, according to state public health officials.

The man, who was not named, was diagnosed after returning home to another state, Davis said. His illness was not immediately linked to the University of Oregon outbreak, resulting in a delay of several weeks before public health officials were notified of the case, he said.

There was no immediate word on which state the man lives in or where he is being treated.

After the death of 18-year-old student Lauren Jones in February, the university launched an aggressive effort to enlist all 22,000 enrolled undergraduates in a two-step vaccination regime available only during meningococcal B outbreaks, and about half have completed that process, said University of Oregon spokeswoman Jen McCulley.

The risk of infection is not considered high for most non-student visitors to the University of Oregon, Davis said.

Students are particularly susceptible to meningococcal infections because the disease is spread through prolonged close contact, and several infections are typical on U.S. college campuses each year.

Reactions to the disease vary. Some people recover quickly while others experience more severe complications that could include deafness, loss of digits because of blood clots, and even death, officials said.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham