Princeton meningitis shots to start Dec. 9

Students at Princeton University can start getting special free meningitis shots in December, according to a letter sent out to students on Tuesday.

The vaccines protect against the B strain of meningitis, which isn’t part of the current U.S. meningitis vaccine. The shots are being imported from Europe under a special license to help fight a small outbreak of the B strain of meningitis at the school, which has infected eight students there.

“The vaccine that is being recommended is licensed for use in Europe and Australia, but not the United States,” the school says in the letter, obtained by NBCNews.

“The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have allowed the use of this vaccine for this particular situation at Princeton. The vaccines will be administered by Maxim Health Systems, which also runs the annual flu vaccine clinic on campus.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that no one should change travel plans because of the outbreak at Princeton and another, seemingly unrelated, outbreak at the University of California, Santa Barbara that has sickened three students there.

“The CDC and state health officials recommend that classes and activities at Princeton University continue as planned, and the surrounding community can continue to attend events on the campus,” the Princeton letter reads.

“They do not recommend any travel restrictions for members of the University community. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been, and there is no evidence to suggest a risk of spreading the bacterial by touching surfaces.”

While it’s unusual to have two college-based outbreaks at the same time, there isn’t an unusually high number of meningitis cases and the infection doesn’t spread easily, says CDC's Dr. Amanda Cohn.

Meningitis is spread by close contact — kissing, or if people share a room or are in very close contact for an extended period. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the disease because they spend a lot of time together in close quarters such as dorms, coffee shops and bars, with plenty of potential to swap germs.

Meningitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, but the dangerous form is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. There are vaccines against four of the most common strains in the United States, known as A, C, Y and W-135. They’re recommended for pre-teens, adolescents and young adults.

The outbreaks at Princeton and UCSB are caused by another strain, called meningitis B. 

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