TAMPA, Fla. — Health officials continue to watch Florida's ongoing meningococcal outbreak now that college students are back on campus for the fall semester. They're considered an at-risk group.
“We have an above-average number of cases of meningitis in Florida,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor at the USF College of Public Health.
Florida’s meningococcal outbreak has been a problem for months.
Meningococcal meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that is often deadly.
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“It’s nothing to mess around with,” said Roberts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this outbreak over the summer mostly impacted gay and bisexual men.
College students are an at-risk group, too, and now that they’re back on campus for the fall semester, some health officials worry about more spread.
“There is never a time at which we shouldn’t be concerned about meningitis spreading in schools. Especially in colleges,” said Roberts.
That’s because the disease is spread through close, prolonged contact.
“We have these close living quarters. College students tend to share items. They live communally. They may share utensils. They may share spaces. They may be in very close contact with each other,” said Roberts.
Meningitis spread in college students has always been a concern.
“We do have a history here, USF, of having lost a student from meningitis and never want to see that happen again,” said Roberts.
Schools are working to protect students from this disease.
At the University of South Florida, officials strongly encourage the meningitis vaccine.
“Meningitis, most importantly, this particular outbreak, is preventable. That vaccine is very, very efficacious. So anybody who isn’t vaccinated for it should be,” said Roberts.
At the University of Tampa, school officials tell ABC Action News that the providers at the UT Health Center have been trained to recognize the signs of meningitis.
UT also strongly encourages the vaccine and has it available on campus. Meningitis educational flyers are regularly posted in residential halls.
While doctors don’t expect widespread infections, they said it’s crucial students know the symptoms so they can act fast, just in case. They should watch out for a stiff neck, headache, fever, and a dark purple rash.
“It’s an emergency situation and needs to be treated immediately. We can actually see patients go from zero symptoms to dead in 24 hours,” said Roberts.