You may never have seen a person who had contracted meningitis. It’s curable, but the symptoms in humans are similar to rabies. It’s a scary disease, with a mortality rate of about 11%, with about 20% of survivors suffering long term damage, from hearing loss to brain damage.
About 1500 people in America contract meningitis every year. That’s about one out of every two hundred and eight thousand people. When five students at Princeton University (student population 7,912) contracted meningitis last Spring, the University responded by handing out party cups with measuring markers on them, emblazoned “Mine, not Yours”. The idea was to prevent the spread of meningitis through shared cups, but no where in the design was a place to personalize the cups. The issue that the rate of meningitis at Princeton University was one hundred thirty times the national average wasn’t mentioned.
It is, unfortunately, common for schools to hide health and safety issues. It is not unusual for colleges and universities to investigate crimes internally so levels of violence do not make it into the papers. Bad for enrollment you know. In this way Princeton is not terribly different than other schools. With a campus safely away from metropolitan centers, it can hide a great deal of what happens. With a local presence that overwhelms small time politicians, Princeton University’s control of local politics and media is probably quite normal.
The University showed its ability to spin a few years back when they built a parking garage with no entrance. No problem, tear out the train tracks. Oh, some people like to take the train. So they called the project to reduce public transportation the “Arts and Transit center”. Without transit. Or Arts. But there will be a restaurant. Without a liquor license. Until they can find a way around that.
Some things cannot be hidden, like deadly communicable diseases. After seven confirmed cases of meningitis (bringing the University’s rate of infection to 1:1750, or almost 200 times the national rate) the New Jersey Board of Health declared an outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essentially “the National Board of Health”, took the extraordinary measure of obtaining permission from the Food and Drug Administration to import a vaccine not presently available in America.
Princeton University agreed to discuss the issue. Wouldn’t want to be hasty, you know. There are still freshmen choosing schools.
So despite a precedent setting move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the students of Princeton University and everyone in close proximity to them may remain in danger of contracting a lethal disease.
Last minute update, the Gods of spin have spoken. “Princeton University will make a vaccine available”. In the local news story, one interviewed student was unaware of the meningitis outbreak, but was thankful to the university for “looking out for the students”. Another story carried the headline “Princeton University takes the extraordinary step of making an unapproved vaccine available”.
Well played Princeton.