Skip to main content

Meningitis response a testament to strong campus, community partnerships

June 6, 2017

A message from Chancellor Blank

Last fall, three UW–Madison students were diagnosed with meningitis.  All three cases were the same strain of meningococcal disease serogroup B even though the students appeared to have no connections to each other. By the standards of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these cases constituted an outbreak.  A number of other schools have experienced similar outbreaks, so the protocol for response is well-developed.  These cases triggered a mass vaccination clinic and a six-month campus monitoring period that ended in April.

After the second confirmed case, our campus launched a comprehensive public health and media campaign to increase awareness about meningitis B symptoms, limit the spread of illness, and publicize the availability of vaccine to students. University Health Services (UHS) and the UW Police Department (UWPD) activated a mass vaccination plan.

Most young adults are immunized against meningococcal disease serogroup ACYW but far fewer typically receive the serogroup B vaccination. In October 2016, only four percent of UW–Madison students had been vaccinated against meningitis B, which left a significant portion of the student population at risk.  Working with campus partners including UW Housing, Rec Sports, University Communications, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, School of Medicine and Public Health, Division of Information Technology, and Athletics, more than 21,000 students – 77 percent of the undergraduate population – received their first dose of life-saving vaccine. This was one of the most successful efforts ever on a college campus.

None of this would have been possible without the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health and Public Health Madison Dane County. Local and state public health led the case investigations, made access to vaccines and supplies possible, assisted in giving vaccines, and communicated throughout the state with local health departments and health care providers.

Importantly, all three students who were diagnosed in the fall are recovering. As we exit the outbreak period, I want to acknowledge the hard work of so many members of the campus community and offer my gratitude to all who responded quickly, professionally and expertly to provide this important vaccine to our students.

In April, UWPD recognized UHS and Rec Sports with Community Service Commendation Awards for their contributions to the meningitis clinic. I would also like to commend our students for taking this recommendation seriously and helping to limit the spread of disease by receiving the vaccinations.

Other contributions include:

University Housing – Print and digital promotion; student transportation from residence halls to vaccination points; volunteer training space; meal vouchers for staff and volunteers; tents for inclement weather

Rec Sports – Facility use; environmental services; staff resources

University Communications – Media relations and promotion

School of Medicine and Public Health – Student volunteers and infectious disease support

School of Nursing – Students and faculty to administer vaccine

School of Pharmacy – Students and faculty to administer vaccine

Athletics – Refrigeration for vaccine storage; seat cushions for those administering vaccine

Division of Information Technology – Expedited printing and delivery of signage and collateral materials to support campaign awareness

Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene – Specimen testing and coordination

This collaborative effort was a testament to the skill and dedication of all involved.

Tags: health, students