Student hospitalized with presumed meningococcal pneumonia

Western Today staff

A Western Washington University student who lives off campus was hospitalized this weekend with presumed meningococcal pneumonia. The student is responding well to antibiotic treatment and is expected to fully recover. An email message was sent to all students, faculty, staff and Western Alert opt-ins on Sunday. The full text of the message is below:

Western Washington University was notified by the Whatcom County Health Department and Peace Health St. Joseph Medical Center today that a WWU student who lives off campus was hospitalized this weekend with presumed meningococcal pneumonia. The student is responding well to antibiotic treatment and is expected to fully recover.

WWU Student Health Center is working closely with the Whatcom County Health Department to identify and treat those at risk of acquiring the infection. All close contacts have been identified and are receiving antibiotics to prevent the disease. Those who have not been identified as close contacts are very unlikely to have acquired the infection and should not take preventive antibiotics.

Neisseria meningitides (meningococcus) bacteria is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States and in 5-15% of infections, the infection can present as pneumonia. As the infection can have a fatality rate of 12%, it is critical that individuals with high risk direct exposure be treated with preventive antibiotics as soon as possible. Meningococcus is a bacterium that is frequently found in the upper respiratory tract of healthy people. Rarely, a person colonized with meningococcus will develop invasive disease. Preventive treatment of close contacts with an effective antibiotic can clear the bacteria from their upper respiratory tract before it becomes invasive.

It is transmitted by contact with infectious oral or respiratory secretions. Kissing, sharing drinking or eating utensils, or shared smoking material/bongs or water pipes, or having face-to-face contact with an infected person who is coughing (within 3 feet) are considered close contacts. Casual contact, even being in a classroom without the above close contact, does not increase the risk of becoming infected.

More information about meningococcal infections may be found at:



Vaccination with the meningococcal vaccine protects against four of the five serogroups of meningococcus, reducing the chance of acquiring infection. The Menactra vaccine is available at the WWU Student Health Center.

The WWU Student Health Center opens Monday, March 12 at 8:30 AM and is available to evaluate any enrolled WWU student. Symptoms of meningococcal disease can include high fever over 101 degrees F, headache and neck pain/stiffness, and rash, all of which are commonly symptoms of less serious respiratory infections such as strep throat and influenza so a careful evaluation must be done to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Students with urgent questions or concerns while the Health Center is closed may contact Dr. Emily Gibson, Director of the WWU Student Health Center, on her cell phone at 360-305-1690.

In addition to immunization, persons should practice “respiratory etiquette” or good health manners to stop the spread of respiratory pathogens.

Persons can keep respiratory pathogens to themselves by:

  • Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, coughing or blowing the nose.

  • Throwing out used tissues in the trash as soon as possible.

  • Always washing hands after sneezing, blowing the nose, or coughing, or after touching used tissues or handkerchiefs.

  • Washing hands often when sick.

  • Using warm water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers to wash hands.

  • Staying home if coughing and febrile.

  • Seeing a doctor as soon as possible if coughing and febrile, and following their instructions, including taking medicine as prescribed and getting lots of rest.

  • If requested, using face masks provided in doctors’ offices or clinic waiting rooms.

Persons can keep pathogens away by:

  • Washing hands before eating, or touching eyes, nose or mouth.

  • Washing hands after touching anyone else who is sneezing, coughing, blowing their nose, or whose nose is running.

  • Not sharing things like cigarettes, towels, lipstick, toys, or anything else that might be contaminated with respiratory germs.

  • Not sharing food, utensils or beverage containers with others.

Monday, March 12, 2012 - 11:32am