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Meningitis Outbreaks: FAQ

continued...

Q: How is this B strain different, and why does the U.S. have no vaccine for it?

The bacteria in the B strain include a protein that resembles some proteins that we have in our bodies, Schaffner says. That’s why it's been difficult to create a vaccine that fights it.

The vaccine Bexsero, approved in Europe and Australia, can attack B strains. Under a special arrangement, the FDA agreed to import supplies of Bexsero to offer to Princeton students.

Immunizations are set to start at Princeton Monday, Dec. 9, according to the university web site.

Q: How common are B strains?

They account for about a third of the 500 cases of meningitis typically seen in the U.S. in the last few years, Cohn says.

Meningitis involving the other strains has decreased, she says, as more and more students have become protected with the vaccine.

Q: What can the healthy students do to stay that way?

''Students should be vigilant," Cohn says, by paying attention to possible symptoms.

A fever along with a bad headache or a rash, typically on the arms and legs, are reasons to seek medical help right away, she says. Stiff neck, confusion, and nausea and vomiting are other possible symptoms, according to the CDC.

Practice good hygiene, Cohn says. Cough into your arm instead of your hands. "There is data that suggests that healthy habits do protect kids from getting meningococcal disease," Cohn says.

Q: Will the CDC ask the FDA to approve Bexsero for universal use?

"That is really the role of the FDA and pharmaceutical companies," Cohn says.

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