In a follow-up to an earlier report of an investigation into an additional University of Oregon student contracting meningococcal meningitis, Oregon health officials now confirm a sixth case of the potentially deadly bacterial infection.

 Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC
Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC

Oregon Health Authority officials say this underscores the critical importance of getting vaccinated against the illness before or during spring break.

The target audience for this vaccination plea: Parents of UO students returning home or planning a trip abroad during the break that starts March 23.

“We need parents to help us get the word out to students about this dangerous, potentially deadly disease, and why it’s crucial for students to get the meningitis B shot right now,” said Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director of infectious disease and immunization programs at the OHA Public Health Division. “No one should be complacent about this disease. University of Oregon undergraduates who have not been vaccinated are at risk of infection, serious illness and death.”

The latest case is a 20-year-old male UO sophomore who lives off campus. The five previous cases all have fallen ill since mid-January. The fourth case, an 18-year-old female freshman at UO, died from the disease February 17.

Oregon Public Health is working closely with UO and Lane County Public Health to investigate the latest case, including tracking and contacting individuals who may have had close contact with the student. They also are encouraging people who meet the following criteria to get vaccinated as soon as possible: All UO undergraduate students at the Eugene campus or undergraduate students who attend classes at least weekly at the Eugene campus; UO graduate students who live in campus residence halls (dormitories) or fraternity and sorority houses; and UO students with high-risk medical conditions, including absent spleen or abnormal spleen function, such as that caused by sickle cell disease, or complement deficiency.

UO students can get vaccinated against meningococcal disease at the University Health Center as well as any Safeway, Albertsons or Walgreens pharmacy in Oregon. Their insurance will be billed directly, and the vaccine will be provided at no cost to them.

So far, more than 9,000 UO students have received the meningitis B vaccine. The goal is to vaccinate 22,000 undergraduate students.

Cieslak says he is pleading with UO parents to encourage students to get vaccinated when they return home for spring vacation, or in Eugene if they choose to stay in town during the break. They also should make sure students who are planning trips abroad get vaccinated before they leave.

“This meningococcal outbreak is not over. We won’t be at all surprised if we see more cases,” Cieslak said. “That’s why undergrads and those with high-risk medical conditions should get vaccinated right away. It’s the best way to reduce your risk of being infected.”