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February 5, 2007

Purdue employee diagnosed with meningococcal disease

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Tippecanoe County health officials are contacting anyone who may have had close contact with a Purdue University residence hall service worker who on Friday (Feb. 2) was diagnosed with a meningococcal infection.

The employee, who works in Earhart Hall, was hospitalized over the weekend and was responding well to treatment, said James Westman, director of the Purdue University Student Health Center.

Dr. Sarah Sayger of the health center said the county health department had already contacted some people with whom the patient had close contact and that the risk of co-workers or students in the residence hall being infected was low. Those determined to have had close contact with the patient will be given a preventative antibiotic treatment, she said.

"This is not the kind of disease where if you were just sitting near the person you would be at risk," Sayger said. "The patient would have to have prolonged, close personal contact with someone in order for transmission of the bacteria that leads to infection to be likely."

Meningococcal disease is transmitted through contact such as kissing or sharing items like eating utensils, glassware and toothbrushes, said Wayne Staggs, epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health.

Staggs said meningococcal disease is relatively uncommon but can lead to serious illness. In most cases, the disease results in meningitis, but it also can lead to illnesses such as blood infection and pneumonia.

"This illness is seasonal, and most incidents occur around this time of year," Sayger said. "It's important to note that 97 percent of the time, the illness is not spread and only involves one case."

Westman said an effective vaccine for the disease is available and is encouraged for certain high-risk groups, including children and teens, as well as some international travelers.

Writer: Brian Zink, (765) 494-2080,

Sources:James Westman, (765) 494-1720

Dr. Sarah Sayger, (765) 494-1700

Erik Deckers, media contact, Indiana State Department of Health, (317) 234-2817

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web sites:
CDC meningococcal disease information:

Purdue University Student Health Center:

Indiana State Department of Health:

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