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Penn works to contain meningitis

Three students at the University of Pennsylvania have been hospitalized with meningococcal infection, according to health alerts issued by the school.

Penn announced Thursday that two students had suffered the infection, which can cause meningitis, and announced the third case on Friday. The three students all had a "common interaction through Penn's Greek system," according to the Feb. 13 alert. The alert recommended preventative treatment for anyone who attended Greek-related events at Penn held since Feb. 2 and for anyone who had "prolonged contact" with those who did.

Penn also canceled all "university and student-sponsored parties" for the weekend, the alert said.

An e-mail to community members from Brown Health Services about the outbreak at Penn also tied the infections to Penn's fencing team. The Brown team participated in a tournament with Penn's team at Columbia last week.

Jeanne Leong, a Penn spokesperson, was unable to confirm that one of the affected students was involved with the fencing team, but both Brown and Columbia have issued health alerts that specifically referred to the schools' fencing teams as at risk.

One of the infected students has already been released from the hospital, Leong wrote in an e-mail to The Herald, while "the other two are in fair condition."

To ensure that more students aren't infected, Penn health services is offering preventative antibiotic pills to students free of charge. The cost of the treatment is being shared by the university and the city of Philadelphia, Leong told The Herald.

Pennsylvania state law already requires all entering undergraduate students to receive one dose of the meningitis vaccine, Leong said. But, she said, the vaccine only protects the body against four of the five strains of meningitis. The Penn students all contracted the strain of infection not covered by the vaccine.

Antibiotic treatment was available to students over the weekend and on Monday and will continue to be offered on a case-by-case basis for the remainder of the week, Leong wrote in her e-mail. So far, about 3,000 of the 10,000 undergraduates at Penn have opted to receive treatment, she wrote.

But Penn sophomore Lucy Medrich, who did not take the antibiotics, said many students were not concerned by the outbreak.

"I didn't get a prophylactic because I didn't go to any frats over the time period they said the meningitis outbreak occurred," she wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "Most of my friends aren't worried about it either."

In response to the Penn outbreak, Brown Health Services issued an e-mail alert on Monday recommending preventative treatment for students who have had close contact with the students in the Penn Greek system or fencing team.

Twelve Brown students received the prophylaxis yesterday and about 20 other students went to speak with Health Services, said Health Services Director Edward Wheeler.

Although no cases have been reported at Brown since the Penn outbreak, the Brown e-mail alert was sent because of the potential seriousness of the disease, Wheeler said. The situation at Penn poses "a very low risk," he added.

"We don't have any reason to believe that anyone was actually in contact with the people who actually have it," he said. "We're just being cautious."

Symptoms of meningitis include stiffening of the neck, high fever, headache and rash, Wheeler said. It is spread through close physical contact, like kissing or sharing utensils, cups or toothbrushes, he said.

Brown fencers contacted by the Herald Tuesday all said they are not concerned about the outbreak, although several team members said they had already gone to receive antibiotics from Health Services.

"Personally, I am not worried about this scare," fencer Scott Phillips '11 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. Phillips added that a Health Services representative was planning to come to the team's practice yesterday to offer the antibiotic pill to anyone on the team who wanted it.

Joseph Isaacson '11 wrote in an e-mail that he is not worried about infection because contact between fencing teams during the tournament was "limited to a quick handshake." But he is glad Brown offered the team treatment. "Even if chance of infection is near zero," he wrote, "it is better to offer those most at risk some preventative treatment."



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