sealPurdue News

March 18, 2002

Contacts of hospitalized student receive antibiotic medication

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A 19-year-old male Purdue University student on spring break in Florida has been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, Purdue health officials announced today (Monday, 3/18).

James S. Westman, director of student health, said individuals considered at-risk who had personal contact with the ill student on the Purdue campus have received medication.

"The student lives in Owen Residence Hall, and residence counselors were notified to inform returning students about the case and how to receive necessary medical attention," he said.

Westman said the Indiana State Board of Health has not recommended a wide-scale preventive immunization program at this time and that antibiotic treatment will be limited to the student's closest associates. Meningitis is spread through close, personal contact.

The student, who remains in guarded but improving condition, was hospitalized in Florida on Saturday (3/16) after he became ill at an airport prior to a return flight after spring break. Once informed of the illness, Purdue officials contacted Tippecanoe County and Indiana health officials who then contacted Florida health authorities to determine what immunization process needed to be implemented.

Meningitis is a rare, but serious, disease, said Dr. Sara Sayger, clinical director of the university's student health clinic. It can be transmitted by recurrent exposure to saliva or coughing or other direct contact, but it is not greatly communicable, she said. It is considered an opportunistic disease that can attack a depleted immune system. In the worst cases, the brain and spinal cord infection can be fatal in 10 percent of the cases.

Nationally, cases within the college-aged population, especially freshmen, are slightly higher than among the same-aged, non-college population.

The last reported case of meningitis on the West Lafayette campus was in January 1997. Meningitis has a one- to 10-day incubation period, with four days being the norm; however, the disease can develop within hours. The signs and symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures. Anyone experiencing these symptoms is urged to seek medical attention.

Since 1998, following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Purdue's student health center has provided information about the meningococcal disease and vaccine, and made the vaccine available to freshmen living on campus and to other undergraduate students who choose to be vaccinated. Purdue has given approximately 1,400 vaccines from June 2001 to date. From June 2000 to May 2001, 2,425 students were inoculated at Purdue.

The CDC has not recommended mandatory or routine vaccinations for all college students. The American College Health Association recommends that students consider vaccinations to reduce their risk for potentially fatal meningococcal disease.

Westman said vaccinations are available through Purdue's student health center. The preventive vaccine, which costs $70, protects students from four of the five most common strains. Additional medication for those directly exposed to the disease costs approximately $20.

Further information about meningitis and its treatment is available on the health center's Web site.

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2073,

Source: James S. Westman, (765) 494-1720,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
Purdue University Student Health Center

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page