H-SANTA BARBARA

Nov 21, 2013 6:52 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

Three confirmed meningitis cases at UCSB

Public health officials are warning about an outbreak of meningitis after three University of California Santa Barbara students have come down with the potentially deadly disease.

Meningitis happens when the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord gets inflamed or infected. The two types are bacterial and viral. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, and rashes.

UCSB, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they are on high alert. This disease can spread quickly so health officials urge everyone to protect themselves.

"Kids from back home in San Diego are supposed to come up this weekend but heard about it and say they are scared to come up here," said one UCSB student.

"Many students are getting vaccinated to be safe, but no one is going that crazy over it," said another.

Word of a meningitis outbreak has spread around campus, so the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and UCSB have alerted students to get vaccinated.

"The reason for that is because in a college setting, such as dormitories or close housing units, there is close contact of individuals," said Dr. Charity Thoman, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

Dr. Thoman says students may not even know they are at risk.

"Sharing drinking cups, sharing cigarettes, any kind of kissing or close personal contact is considered a close contact," said Dr. Thoman.

The University of California system does not require students to have a meningitis vaccination.

Dr. Thoman says the vaccinations approved in the United States do not protect against the bacteria group that has infected the students at UCSB and that means students who did receive the meningitis vaccine, which is recommended by the CDC, will not be protected from the current outbreak.

She says practicing good hygiene will reduce students' risk.

"That means covering your mouth when you cough, not sharing eating utensils or cups with someone who is ill, or making sure to avoid close contact if you yourself are ill," said Dr. Thoman.

The current vaccine being given to students does protect them against the other forms of meningitis. About 300 students have been vaccinated so far.

The three students with confirmed cases are receiving medical care. UCSB officials say one of the students is already back in class.

If you have any symptoms, you should call Santa Barbara County's Disease Control and Prevention hotline at 805-681-5280.

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