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Princeton plans to offer imported vaccine to stop meningitis outbreak

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Princeton University said on Monday it planned to offer students and faculty a meningitis vaccine approved for use in Europe and Australia but not yet in the United States, in an effort to stop an outbreak of meningitis on its Ivy League campus.

The federal Food and Drug Administration agreed last week to the importation of the vaccine for use on the campus to inoculate students against a strain of the disease, serogroup B, that has sickened seven people this year.

Officials at the New Jersey campus said on Monday they were awaiting final approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and would begin offering the vaccine, Bexsero, "as soon as possible."

"The vaccine that is being recommended is licensed for use in Europe and Australia, but not the United States," the university said in a statement. "The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration would allow the use of this vaccine for this particular situation at Princeton."

The outbreak of serogroup B meningitis is rare but not the first of its kind in the United States, according to the CDC.

Bexsero, made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, would be given to all undergraduate students, graduate students who live in university housing on or off campus, and students and faculty with certain illnesses, such as sickle cell disease, university officials said.

Meningitis is a serious disease that is spread through coughing and exchanges of saliva, and people living in dormitories or other crowded living quarters are especially at risk.

The first case on campus was reported in March, with the most recent victim diagnosed last Sunday, according to university spokesman Martin Mbugua. Six of those affected are students, and one was a visitor, he said.

Those eligible for the vaccine would receive the first of two necessary does "on specific dates in early December," the university said. The second dose would be administered in February.

University officials reminded students and those who have already received a meningococcal vaccine in the United States that they are not protected against serogroup B, the bacteria causing the outbreak at Princeton.

Bacterial meningitis can cause the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord to swell. The most severe cases can result in death, hearing loss, brain damage, kidney disease or amputation of limbs.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and stiff neck.

(Editing by Edith Honan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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