By Elizabeth Landau
Three students at the University of California Santa Barbara were being treated Thursday for meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection that causes bloodstream infections and meningitis, health officials said.
The students -- two males and a female -- became ill between November 11 and November 18, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Two cases are confirmed to be the same strain, said department spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild. The three were in contact "directly or secondarily," she said.
All the cases were caused by meningococcal bacteria known as type B, the same strain found in seven cases of meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain, at Princeton University since March.
However, no link has been found between the California cases and those at Princeton, the health department said.
"This is not expected, as cases of meningococcal disease can occur sporadically in college settings since this population has an increased risk," the department said in a statement.
Generally, college-aged youth, particularly those in their first year who live in residence halls, are at increased risk of meningococcal disease. Kissing, sharing eating utensils or food, and drinks or cigarettes can increase risk.
Public health officials and the university are looking into the cases. Some 300 students who have had close contact with the ill students were being given antibiotics, the statement said.
Princeton is preparing to provide a vaccine, unlicensed in the United States, which targets meningitis B, pending final approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Santa Barbara County, UCSB, California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control have already had preliminary discussions about the vaccine," the statement said. "Santa Barbara County and UCSB will be monitoring the situation closely and continuing to explore the possibility of vaccination."
There are two forms of meningitis: bacterial and viral. The bacterial form is rare in the United States, and the group B bacterial strains are even more rare.
Symptoms can include stiff neck, headache, fever, vomiting, rashes, sensitivity to light and confusion. Untreated, the disease can lead to complications such as hearing impairment, brain damage, limb amputations and death.
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