Meningitis Updates

Cowell Center Statement on Meningitis Case

Jan. 31 (4:30 pm):The Cowell Center has issued a statement regarding a possible meningitis infection.

January 31st, 2016

Dear Members of the Santa Clara University Community,

On Sunday, January 31 an undergraduate student on campus became very ill and has been admitted to a local hospital.  Based on what we know so far, we are concerned that the student may be ill with meningococcal meningitis. We expect to have confirmation tomorrow or soon thereafter with the cause of the student’s illness.

We want to let you know that we are working closely with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to identify any students that may have had close contact with the student and may need preventive antibiotics. The vast majority of people at school do not need to be concerned or take any special precautions.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges.  The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses.  The severity of illness and treatment differ depending on the cause.

One kind of bacteria that can cause meningitis is Neisseria meningititis, also known as meningococcus. Paradoxically, as many as two out of every ten people may carry the Neisseria meningitidis bacterium in the back of their nose and throat at any given time and have no symptoms or illness whatsoever.  While most of these people are healthy and do not have the disease, they may pass the bacteria on to others.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis may develop within several hours or over a period of 1 to 2 days. Usual symptoms are high fever, severe headache, and stiff neck. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, discomfort when looking into bright lights, and mental confusion.

Is meningitis contagious?

People with meningococcal meningitis are contagious, however, the infection is not easily spread from person to person. The infection is spread by close or prolonged contact. The bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (i.e., coughing, kissing). People in the same household, or anyone with direct contact with a person’s oral secretions (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend) may be at increased risk of acquiring the infection. Fortunately, none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as things like the common cold or the flu, and they are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.

Please know that these bacteria do not live on environmental surfaces or in the air.  The bacteria can live outside the body for only a few minutes.  For example, if the bacteria are coughed onto a desk or object, they will soon die off and persons touching those objects later will not become infected.  No special cleaning is required for surfaces or equipment. There is no risk from being in the classroom or anywhere else on campus where the ill student spent time.

Who should be concerned about being exposed in this situation?

 Again, the vast majority of people at school do not need to be concerned or take any special precautions. We are working to identify students and others in the community who had close or prolonged contact with the ill student in the week prior (e.g. between January 24 and today), and have been offering preventive antibiotics to those individuals. 

For all others persons, including those who had casual contact as would occur in most school-related activities, the risk of infection is extraordinarily low and approaches that in the population at large (one case/100,000 population/year). For those with casual contact, preventive antibiotics are not indicated and not advised. 

We are working with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and will send you further information as it becomes available. If you are interested in more information regarding meningococcal disease please see:

The Cowell Center opens at 8:30 am Monday. Students concerned that they have had close contact should contact the Cowell Center.

Students with general questions or concerns about this situation, should contact the Office of Student Life at 408 554-4583

Additional updates will be available on the Cowell website beginning at 10:00 am Monday.

We are keeping the student and family in our thoughts and prayers.

Cowell Center Student Health Services