Argosy University Professor's Meningitis Death Appears Unrelated to Santa Clara University Cases, Health Officials Say

A third meningitis case was reported in the South Bay on the same day East Bay health officials said a university professor died from the disease.

A Bay Area university professor has died from meningitis, health officials announced Thursday, the same day a third student at a different area university was diagnosed with meningococcal disease.

A professor at Argosy University in Alameda died from meningitis recently, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. However, spokeswoman Sherri Willis said there's no indication that the professor's death is linked to a recent cluster of three Santa Clara University students who have been diagnosed with meningococcal infections.

A third Santa Clara student was diagnosed with meningococcal disease, a serious and sometimes deadly infection, the Santa Clara County Health Department announced Thursday.

All three students have been infected with the serogroup B strain of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, according to health department spokeswoman Allison Thrash.

Willis said the health department notified Argosy on Jan. 25 that the professor had died from meningitis. She said the situation at Argosy is different than the situation at Santa Clara University, where the school has offered antibiotics and vaccines for the rest of the campus community.

Willis said Argosy only has "a tiny campus," no other cases have been linked to the professor who died and only a small number of students and staff had contact with the professor. Those people were identified and given medication as a precautionary measure but there isn't a need to offer antibiotics and vaccines to everyone at the campus, she said.

The strain of meningitis that the professor had is "completely different" than the strain of meningitis that the Santa Clara University students have, Willis said.

Argosy University officials didn't release any information about the professor.

The two Santa Clara University students remained hospitalized Thursday morning and are listed in fair condition, officials said. A third student was discharged in good condition.

All three students fell ill Jan. 31, but only two cases were reported Wednesday. Health officials said one of the students suffered meningococcal meningitis, an infection of the brain and spine, while the other had developed meningococcemia, an infection of the bloodstream. Information about the third student wasn't immediately available.

Because serogroup B vaccines were only approved by the FDA in 2014 and 2015, most people are not vaccinated against this particular strain, authorities said Wednesday. Santa Clara University has set up free vaccination clinics for students.

Over 200 students had received preventative antiobiotics as of Thursday morning, according to Thrash, who is urging the rest of the campus community to follow suit. More students lined up Thursday afternoon for a vaccination clinic event at Santa Clara University. Another is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday on the Concourse Level of Leavey Center.

Meningococcal meningitis, a bacteria most common in Africa, is carried in the throat and back of the nose. It's transmitted by saliva and mucus during "prolonged close contact," often by kissing, sneezing, coughing and sharing eating utensils, according to the World Health Organization.

Even when meningococcal meningitis is diagnosed and treated early, 5 to 10 percent of patients die, typically within one to two days after the onset of symptoms, according to the WHO. Left untreated, about half of patients die.

Symptoms include fever, headache and a stiff neck. Patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms typically develop within three to seven days of infection.

According to the National Meningitis Association, serogroup B accounts for about a third of U.S. cases of meningococcal disease. Four college campuses have suffered outbreaks between March 2013 and June 2015, including the University of Oregon, Providence College, Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Two of the outbreaks were fatal, and one resulted in a student having both feet amputated, according to the NMA. Other infected students suffered neurological problems.

The health department will be issuing daily updates online.

Ari Mason and Bay City News contributed to this report.

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