New Report from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Reviews Recent Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks on College Campuses

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Report Identifies Challenges and Includes Recommendations for Management of Future Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks

May 22, 2014

An expert panel assembled by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) examined recent meningococcal disease outbreaks on multiple college campuses in the United States and concluded that despite its rarity, the severe nature of meningococcal disease makes advance planning essential. These outbreaks were particularly challenging because they were caused by meningococcal serogroup B bacteria, which is not included in the vaccines currently approved for use in the United States. A serogroup B vaccine approved for use in Australia, Canada, and Europe was used under a special approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help manage the recent outbreaks.

“Meningococcal disease has a striking capacity to kill and maim,” noted William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and immediate past-president of NFID, who chaired the expert panel. “Even a single case on a college campus causes anxiety for the public, healthcare professionals, and public health authorities.”

The expert panel heard presentations from several public health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CDC presentation included a review of epidemiologic data about meningococcal disease showing that serogroup B has overtaken serogroups C and Y as the most common cause of this disease in adolescents and the FDA presentation highlighted the fact that both the serogroup B vaccine used under special approval as well as another vaccine in development were both granted “Breakthrough Therapy” status by the FDA. Manufacturers are expected to apply for licensure for these vaccines this year and the FDA will review the applications on an accelerated schedule to help meet U.S. public health needs. The directors of college health at Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara, which both recently experienced serogroup B meningococcal outbreaks, discussed the enormous disruption to the respective campuses.

The panel’s conclusions included the following:

Licensure of meningococcal serogroup B vaccines will have the single greatest impact on improving responses to future outbreaks;

Increased efforts are needed to educate and raise awareness among healthcare professionals about the signs and symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease;

Educational resources need to be readily available for the public when outbreaks occur;

Clear communication from the FDA about the status of new vaccine approval is essential to keep the concerned public informed.

The report, entitled “Addressing the Challenges of Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease Outbreaks on Campuses,” is available at

About Meningococcal Disease
Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection that most often leads to severe swelling of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the bloodstream (meningococcemia). Even with antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 out of 100 people infected with meningococcal disease will die; about 11 to 19 out of every 100 survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage. The disease affects persons of all ages in the U.S., though adolescents and college students are at increased risk. Vaccines available in the U.S. protect against four of the major strains of the disease: A, C, W, and Y. There is no vaccine approved in the U.S. for serogroup B, which was responsible for recent outbreaks at Princeton, UCSB and three other college campuses.

NFID’s Expert Panel
Panelists included experts in infectious diseases, college health, public health, and vaccinology, as well as a representative from the National Meningitis Association, a non-profit, advocacy organization.

About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the causes, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases across the lifespan.

This initiative was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Inc. NFID’s policies restrict funders from controlling program content.

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