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Princeton reports 8th meningitis case

Another Princeton University student has been sickened with meningitis, the eighth case in an outbreak that began last March, school officials said Friday. 

The female student fell ill less than a week after school officials agreed to pay for and provide an imported vaccine for students to help halt an outbreak of the potentially deadly infection that is not covered by shots currently recommended for U.S. college students. 

The student, who was not identified, developed symptoms Wednesday and was hospitalized after reporting to the student health center at the New Jersey school, where visits have risen 10 percent in recent weeks, officials said. 

Health officials are conducting tests to determine if the newest case is caused by meningitis serogroup B, the strain responsible for the previous infections which have affected six other Princeton students and a student visitor since March. 

On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Princeton officials plan to start vaccinations in December with Bexsero, a Novartis vaccine that is licensed in Europe and Australia, but not in the U.S. 

On Thursday, officials at Monmouth University in West Long Branch New Jersey reported that an employee there was "gravely ill" and hospitalized with meningitis. There was no word Friday on whether the infection was caused by serogroup B or whether it was related to the Princeton outbreak, a school spokeswoman said. 

Across the country, the University of California at Santa Barbara on Thursday confirmed an outbreak of three cases of meningitis B in students, although health officials say it is not related to the Princeton strain. There was no new information on that outbreak Friday, a health official said.

Bacterial meningitis is a dangerous infection of the protective membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord, known as the meninges. It is spread through respiratory droplets or secretions exchanged through close contact such as coughing or kissing. 

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. At any one time, 5 percent to 10 percent of the population may carry the bacteria in their throats, but only a small proportion develop infections. Exposure to smoke and getting a respiratory illness, like a cold, can increase the chance of infection, CDC says. 

Cases have dropped sharply in the U.S. in recent years, but between 800 and 1,200 are typically reported annually. Most cases in America are caused by the C or Y strains of bacteria, CDC says.

The worry is that between 10 percent and 12 percent of those who get the fast-moving infection die, and about 20 percent of those who recover can wind up with severe side effects including deafness, mental retardation and limb amputations, according to the CDC.

CDC and state health officials said that activities and travel plans on the Princeton campus can continue as scheduled and that members of the surrounding community could attend events at the school. 

Health officials have downplayed worries about Princeton students returning home for the Thanksgiving holidays and possibly spreading the infection, which has an average incubation period of four days, though it can range between two and 10 days, according to the World Health Organization. The bacteria require close contact over several hours to spread, which means the likelihood is low, CDC officials said.