Doctors Confirm Bacterial Meningitis Case at Colgate

A Colgate student was diagnosed with bacterial meningococcal meningitis by physicians after being taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Utica with symptoms consistent with meningitis on Monday, April 2.  No additional patients have been identified since the initial diagnosis. 

Bacterial meningococcal meningitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection. The disease results in the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis may be fatal or cause great harm without immediate treatment; according to WebMD, one in five people who are diagnosed with the infection have serious complications. 

This illness is spread through direct contact with an infected individual. According to an email from Colgate Campus Alerts, close or lengthy contact such as kissing, sharing food and beverages or being coughed upon can spread these bacteria. Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or flu; therefore, people do not catch them through casual contact or breathing air in the same room. The symptoms of meningitis include headache, stiff neck, high fever, rash, sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting. 

Colgate’s Student Health Services has been doing everything in its ability to prevent other students and members of the campus community from contracting this illness. University officials directly reached out to individuals who may have been in close contact with the patient, and have given these members of the campus community preventative treatment in the form of antibiotics. Additionally, preventative cleaning measures have been implemented around campus, such as the installation of more than 60 hand-sanitizing stations.

The university is working with the Madison County Department of Public Health and local emergency agencies to combat this issue. 

Director of Student Health Services Merrill Miller provided insight on the meningitis diagnosis, and the procedures taken to respond to this emergency situation.

“First and foremost, we are all thinking good thoughts for our ill student, and the initial priority was getting her to the intensive care that she needed. [The student] continues to get excellent and expert care. We, of course, also made additional contact with her parents, and they are with her,” Miller said. “Our next priority was to take care of any students or staff who may have had exposure to our student. That has been done with a major informational campaign and giving over 160 doses of the recommended oral antibiotic to those people within 48 hours.”

Miller also noted that it has been a coordinated effort. 

“As part of Colgate’s Emergency System, I have been working specifically with the local Health Department and Community Memorial Hospital – they have been remarkably helpful and they have been very, very pleased at Colgate’s rapid response and handling of this health emergency. Our contact personnel at the Health Department has helped us with coordination of policies and obtaining medications,” Miller said. 

Students on campus have had a wide range of reactions to this emergency situation, but a deep concern for the diagnosed student is felt among members of the community. 

Junior Brynn Johnson explained the measures she took to make sure she didn’t contract the illness.

“I heard that the bacteria doesn’t live outside of the human body for very long and checked with my doctor to make sure I received the vaccination before coming to Colgate, so I wasn’t too concerned about becoming sick myself. However, I really hope that the student gets better soon and there aren’t any other cases in the future,” Johnson said.

Sophomore Lucy Alderson-Smith felt that the university’s process in handling the situation was effective and transparent. 

“I really appreciated getting frequent e-mail updates from Colgate about the situation and felt informed about ways to avoid getting sick,” Alderson-Smith said.

Junior Annie Childress also felt that Colgate’s preventative measures were informative and helpful in encouraging students to practice careful hygiene.

“I definitely noticed a lot more hand-sanitizing stations all around campus, which I have been using multiple times a day, and there are posters and flyers about meningitis everywhere,” Childress said.  

In consultation with these state and local agencies, Colgate will be offering vaccination clinics for all students who have not received two doses of the serogroup B immunization. The clinic is not an emergency response to the diagnosis; it is being held to provide protection for the future. 

Contact Meghan McMahon at [email protected].