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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against meningitis B Wednesday, opening a way for college students to be protected against a strain of bacteria that’s killed six people in the past two years.
The vaccine, called Trumenba, is one of two that protects against the B strain of Neisseria meningitides. Another one, called Bexsero, has been used on an emergency basis to fight outbreaks at Princeton University and the University of California Santa Barbara. Current vaccines protect against the four most common strains of the bacteria, but not B.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious manifestation of infection with N. meningitides. It’s an inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord and, unlike a similar inflammation caused by viruses, it’s lethal. It kills one in 10 of those infected and in another 20 percent causes severe disabilities, including the amputation of limbs. Symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, along with severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, sensitivity to light, confusion and, possibly, rash. College students are especially vulnerable as they leave home towns and mix with new populations.
Meningitis B killed a Georgetown University student last September and a San Diego State University student earlier this month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 500 cases of bacterial meningitis were reported in the United States in 2012; of those cases, 160 were caused by meningitis B. “Recent outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease on a few college campuses have heightened concerns for this potentially deadly disease,” FDA’s Dr. Karen Midthun said in a statement.