The sudden death Monday of Drexel University student was caused by a meningococcal bloodstream infection, Philadelphia health officials said Wednesday.
Stephanie Ross, a Drexel sophomore, was discovered unresponsive by her sorority housemates and rushed to the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, university officials said in a statement. She later died.
It's still not clear what particular strain caused the meningococcemia, an acute and deadly bloodstream infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria.
Federal health officials are monitoring the situation to see whether Ross's death was linked to the B strain of meningitis that prompted emergency vaccination clinics for thousands of students at Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, in recent months.
Antibiotics are being made available to students who were in close contact with Ross.
Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord. It is a rare but fast-acting infection that kills 1 in 10 of those who get it and leaves 1 in 5 with severe side effects, including deafness, mental retardation and limb amputations.
College students who live in campus housing at Drexel and in Pennsylvania are required to be immunized against bacterial meningitis, a campus official said. However, the vaccine available in the U.S. covers only four strains that cause the infection, A, C, Y and W-135.
Two outbreaks caused by the B strain of meningitis at Princeton and UCSB prompted federal officials to authorize emergency use of Bexsero, a vaccine approved in Europe, Australia and Canada — but not the US — that protects against meningitis B.
About 5,200 Princeton students received first doses of the vaccine in December, and another 4,700 got booster shots in February.
At UCSB, about 9,000 students were vaccinated in a clinic that ended Friday, about half of the 18,000 students who were recommended to get the vaccine, campus officials said. Booster doses will be available at UCSB later this spring.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the Drexel situation closely, a spokesman said. Wider use of Bexsero would require expansion of the emergency use provisions or U.S. licensure of the vaccine.