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Saturday
Nov162013

Health Officials Responding to Meningitis Outbreak at Princeton University

Barry Winiker/Getty Images(PRINCETON, N.J.) -- Health officials say there's a serious health crisis at Princeton University in New Jersey.

With seven cases of meningitis diagnosed at Princeton since March, New Jersey health officials have declared an outbreak that's so serious the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking the unprecedented move of importing emergency doses of a meningitis vaccine not yet approved for use in this country. 

Government health officials have agreed to import Bexsero, a vaccination only licensed in Europe and Australia, but it protects against meningitis B, which is the particular strain with which the students have been diagnosed.

Bacterial meningitis is a dangerous infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It's spread through respiratory droplets exchanged in close contact, such as coughing or kissing, making university campuses a potential breeding ground.

Early symptoms can resemble a cold or flu, which can be common this time of year.  The CDC, meanwhile, isn't taking any chances hoping to stop the spread of an illness that kills 10 percent or more of teens or young adults who contract it.

"You typically will see someone [who] says, 'I'm not feeling well,' they will tell a family member or friend, 'I'm not feeling well,' and then in a matter of hours or less, they're going to get really sick," Dr. Mark Whitman tells ABC News.

If a vaccination plan is rolled out, it could aim to inoculate the nearly 8,000 students at Princeton. University officials, however, wouldn't say if the vaccination effort would be launched, only releasing this statement:

"When we have something to announce, we will make an announcement."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio