Hundreds of meningitis shots at BVU

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Two cases confirmed, three more suspected

On Wednesday, Buena Vista County Public Health officials began administering vaccine shots to Buena Vista University students by the hundreds, hoping to stop a threat of a meningitis epidemic on campus.

According to public health Director Sally Bonneson, a total of five Buena Vista University students have been treated for possible meningitis cases since Thursday of last week, with two cases confirmed. Four of the students have been hospitalized.

Public Health has not recommended that the campus be closed down, so classes will continue this week, President Fred Moore confirmed in a letter to the students and staff.

Public Health staff started giving the shots at 2 p.m. yesterday, and by 5 p.m. had given out nearly 400 doses. The shots are not mandatory at this point. They planned to continue the effort until 10 p.m. or until supplies of vaccine were exhausted.

Each shot costs $82 plus a surtax and rush shipping fees to get the vaccine here - a cost that BVU has covered completely, Bonneson said.

"I'm sure the cost to BVU today will run over $100,000. This is extraordinary and they really need to be commended. In an epidemic situation like this, the local tax dollars that fund public health simply couldn't touch what needs to be done - it would break the county."

A thousand doses of vaccine have been obtained for the campus. If the spread of the disease continues, more could be obtained.

Meningitis is a highly contagious illness, and has in the past year taken the lives of a Storm Lake toddler and an Aurelia teenager. None of the BVU illnesses have been fatal.

"Up until today, everyone seemed to be somewhat worried. Nobody knew what was going on for sure, and it seemed like students were taking extra precaution," said BVU senior Matt Smith. Students are clearly worried, he said.

Some seems to be avoiding kissing and sharing items, and making sure to wash their hands often, he said. "I think the constant line of e-mails (from the BVU administration) helped to get information out. There were still rumors flying around, but I think the university did a good job of communicating with the students."

The first reported case saw a student hospitalized and later released late last week. A second case was confirmed and is being treated. A third case shows the symptoms of meningitis but diagnosis has so far been uncertain. In the fourth and fifth cases, students have been treated with meningitis-like symptoms, but producing blood tests that appear negative for that disease. One of these two was treated and released, the other remained hospitalized.

Since the illness is often passed by saliva contact, many in the BVU community are questioning why the names of the victims are not being released. In his letter, Moore said that legal representatives and public health officials have agreed that making names public would violate state and federal confidentiality laws.

BVU and public health officials have worked to reach those people who may have had close contact with the students who are being treated. Additional students are being referred for further assessment.

The campus vaccination campaign is directly based on recommendations from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Moore indicated that persons who have had relevant contact with the ill students have already been treated with antibiotics. A physician has authorized vaccinations and oral antibiotics to all faculty and staff as well as the students, but public health is not recommending vaccinations to the staff's families at this time. BVU is using its website to regularly update the campus community on the situation.

The medications are being provided at no charge to the students and staff.

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