Princeton Students May Get Unapproved Meningitis Vaccine

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Barry Winiker/Getty ImagesUPDATE: Princeton University announced on Monday it will distribute a meningitis vaccine that has not been approved in the U.S.  The school says it hopes to make the first doses available in early December.

(PRINCETON, N.J.) — The students at Princeton University aren’t kissing one another anymore. Well, at least they shouldn’t be.

A rare strain of meningitis — meningococcal type B — is sweeping the campus and has infected seven undergraduate students since last March.

“They really just tell us don’t share saliva at any capacity,” Princeton senior Cody Kitchen told ABC  News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser during Besser’s trip to the New Jersey campus. “That’s basically how it’s transmitted.”

When Besser needled him about it, Kitchen replied, “No kissing at Princeton at all,” and laughed.

There is no vaccine for Princeton’s meningitis strain approved in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration has approved importing an unapproved vaccine for the Ivy League students.  It is approved in Australia and Europe, but not in the United States.

Meningitis symptoms feel a lot like the flu with a fever and body pains, but a stiff neck is the telltale sign that the illness is much more serious, Besser said.

“Just getting calls from your parents and relatives asking what’s going on, it’s a little bit scary,” said student Maddy Russell.

Without rapid treatment, about 10 percent of those infected could die, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.  Patients who survive risk permanent brain and hearing damage.

According to Besser, the bacterium that causes meningitis lives in the nose, but most people don’t get sick.  Close contact — such as living in a dorm — can spread it.

The university has not yet said whether it would recommend the vaccine.

“Not knowing the effects of the vaccine or anything like that, since it’s not approved in the U.S., I don’t think I would take it,” said student Samantha Wierzbicki.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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