The department identified three cases within a week, which meets the definition of an outbreak, and UCSB student health officials said two of the three students have fully recovered.
The third, freshman Aaron Loy, is still in the hospital, according to his family’s CaringBridge website to keep friends and family updated on his condition.
Public Health is keeping a very close eye on people, and is working with UCSB, the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send out alerts to health-care providers as students head home for the holidays, Public Health spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild said.
“This is the kind of bacteria that can have such a dramatic effect on someone who was healthy such a short time ago,” Klein-Rothschild said.
The county has a system in place to contact all local providers, and the state and CDC have similar systems, she said.
UCSB also has given students handouts to give to their health-care providers when they leave town.
Loy was taken to the Cottage Hospital emergency room by his friends and then transferred to UC San Diego’s medical center. He is from La Costa Canyon in San Diego County and is on the UCSB men’s lacrosse team, whose season schedule starts in February.
“Had his suite mates not gotten Aaron to the ER, or had the doctors not treated him as quickly/aggressively as they did, the outcome would have certainly been fatal,” his family wrote.
There were issues with circulation and getting enough blood to his arms and legs, and his family updated their website Nov. 21.
“Tragically the tissue, muscle and nerves in his feet became irreversibly necrotic. Yesterday, Aaron's feet were amputated to save his lower legs and to reduce the risk of further infection,” they wrote.
Antibiotics eradicated the bacteria itself, but he is still recovering from the effects. He’s expected to need several more surgeries in the next few weeks, according to the website.
UCSB has taken preventive health action for 500 students, and the Student Health Center has walk-in vaccinations for meningitis every Tuesday and Friday, along with annual flu shots.
There is no vaccination for this particular strain of meningococcal disease, but Public Health recommends people be vaccinated for the other four strains.
Early treatment is critical because the disease can quickly become life-threatening. A rash, which can be purple, appearing on the body accompanied by fever, can be a signal that a person has meningococcal disease.
Other symptoms include severe headache, body aches, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion, and can be mistaken for flu early in the course of the illness.
It is spread by exchanging respiratory and throat secretions, so sharing water bottles, cosmetics, toothbrushes, smoking materials and kissing can spread the disease.
Anyone with the signs or symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek medical care immediately.