USF ready to give shots

Those worried about bacterial meningitis can get vaccinated.

Published September 24, 2007

TAMPA - Health officials at the University of South Florida have beefed up their vaccine supply to treat students who may have had contact with a sorority resident believed to have bacterial meningitis.

An overnight shipment of the vaccine was to arrive this morning to meet the anticipated demand as students returned to campus. News of the possible exposure spread over the weekend.

"We expect that we are going to have a very busy day," said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director of Student Health Services at USF.

By late Sunday, Terenzi said she had given the antibiotic Cipro to 52 patients, twice the number of students health officials initially identified as having had contact with the ill student. Terenzi said the increase in the number didn't surprise her.

"This is an active social community that she was in," Terenzi said. "We were most concerned to get those contacts treated this weekend. We'll get to everybody."

Rachel Futterman, 19, lives in a sorority house on campus. She became ill Friday morning and friends took her to the hospital Saturday.

University Community Hospital spokesman Steve Ramsour said he could not comment on Futterman's condition Sunday night due to patient confidentiality rules.

She did not attend classes Friday, when she would have been contagious, Terenzi said.

USF spokesman Ken Gullette said university officials were waiting to hear more from her doctors. All the symptoms led the doctors to believe that meningitis was the diagnosis, he said.

"We've been consumed with it all weekend. We're just hoping she pulls through."

"She is our student and we are very concerned," USF president Judy Genshaft said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and friends."

Terenzi was at the USF Student Health Center all day Sunday, giving the antibiotic to students who believed they may have had direct contact with the infected student.

In Florida, students who live in university residence halls are required to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis or sign a waiver. By today, USF was to have more than 200 doses of the vaccine on hand for students living on campus who have not had the vaccination and decide they want it.

According to Terenzi, the antibiotic tablet was given to students who may have had direct contact with the infected person. The vaccination is for long-term protection.

On Saturday night, e-mails were sent to all students, faculty and staff members alerting them to the situation. A newsrelease was sent to the media and posted on the USF Web site.

In addition, phone calls were made to the student's classmates Sunday, even though officials said the chances are very slight that any were at risk of infection.

Terenzi said that students and parents were "responding quite aggressively" with calls for information and treatment.

Bacterial meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord lining, is a rare but potentially fatal illness. Early symptoms can resemble the flu, including fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash and lethargy.

School health officials say students would not be considered in danger if they were just in the same classroom as the infected person. The bacteria is spread through direct contact, which would include sharing things like cigarettes, drinking glasses or a kiss.

Bacterial meningitis affects about 3,000 Americans each year and kills about 300, according to statistics released by school health officials. About 100 to 125 of those cases occur on college campuses, with five to 15 students dying as a result.

Student Health Services will operate during regular hours today, from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Anyone with questions can call 813 974-2331.

Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.