Meningitis that killed SDSU student not covered by vaccine


Sarah Stelzer (Facebook)

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SAN DIEGO – Days after a San Diego State University student died from meningococcal bacteria, county health officials said she had a strain not affected by vaccinations approved in the United States.

San Diego County Health and Human Services officials said 18-year-old Sara Stelzer had serogroup B, which is not covered by the vaccinations available in this country.

Stelzer was a freshman at SDSU and began experiencing flu-like symptoms on Sunday, October 12. She was admitted to a hospital last Tuesday and on Friday morning campus officials confirmed she had died, though remained on life support for one more day.

According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the current vaccine used in the United States blocks some, but not all strains of meningococcal bacteria – including serogroups A, C, Y and W-135. Vaccines used in Europe, Canada and Australia defend against serogroup B.

An SDSU spokeswoman said nearly 1,000 students visited Student Health Services for evaluations and preventative antibiotics over the weekend. Some students who had symptoms were found to be OK, according to the school.

The antibiotic that has been provided over the past week does provide short-term protection against serogroup B meningococcal disease, according to county health officials.

The school’s health clinic will continue to see student patients as needed, according to SDSU.

The university contacted students who may have been in close contact with Stelzer, among them members of the Kappa Delta sorority and two fraternities where she attended parties on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 — Alpha Epsilon Pi and Delta Sigma Phi.

Students with questions can contact Student Health Services at 619-594-4325 and press 2 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays, go online to, or contact their personal healthcare provider.

The county Health and Human Services Agency said bacteria can be spread through close contact, such as sharing drinking glasses, eating utensils, cigarettes or pipes, or water bottles; kissing; and living in close quarters. The time between exposure to the disease and the onset of symptoms can be between two and 10 days.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include fever, intense headache, lethargy, a stiff neck and/or a rash that does not blanch under pressure. Anyone with potential exposure who develops any of those symptoms should immediately contact a healthcare provider or emergency room for an evaluation for possible meningococcal disease, health officials said.

Dr. Gregg Lichtenstein, the Student Health Services director, said people with such symptoms should immediately go to a hospital emergency room for treatment, not a student health clinic or a personal physician.

The HHSA said six cases of meningococcal disease have been reported in San Diego County this year, including a Patrick Henry High School student who died in February. On average, 10 cases have been reported annually over the past five years in the region.

A vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of meningococcal disease and is routinely recommended for children and adolescents 11 to 18 years of age, including a booster for those entering college if they received their last dose prior to age 15.

Health officials said if a second case of meningococcal disease is reported within six months, they may request the non-licensed vaccine from the CDC.

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