University Message on Meningococcal Infections at Penn

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Media Contact: | | February 16, 2009
TO: University Community

FROM: President Amy Gutmann, Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, and Interim Provost Vincent Price

We are writing to provide you with a more detailed update concerning the University’s response to three students hospitalized with meningococcal infections and the two additional students hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. First and foremost, we are pleased to report that all five undergraduates are in good or fair condition, and there is every reason to believe they will recover completely. At this time, there are no additional confirmed cases of meningococcal infection.

With the students out of immediate danger, we thought we would update you regarding the steps Penn has taken to protect the health and safety of our students and the broader Penn community. As a precautionary measure, the University cancelled all official and student-sponsored undergraduate parties this past weekend. On Monday, all classes, campus events, and other gatherings resumed as scheduled. We have been assured by medical and public health experts that such gatherings present little risk. We do not anticipate any further disruptions to University operations or schedules.

Thus far, University and city public health officials have provided preventative antibiotic treatment to more than 3,000 students. The treatment was targeted to students who attended fraternity or sorority events since February 2nd and those who had close contact with the hospitalized students. During the period since we confirmed the first case, medical providers and administrators from Student Health Service, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, University Life, College Houses, and a number of other offices mobilized to provide treatment and information to our students. We offered special clinics for students to receive the preventative antibiotic treatment on Thursday 5:30pm-7pm, Friday 6pm-9pm, Saturday 9am-4:30pm and 7pm-10pm, Sunday Noon to 3pm, and Monday 11am-3pm. If needed, we are prepared to hold additional special clinics later in the week.

We are continuing to follow up with those students who are in the targeted group to ensure that they received preventative antibiotic treatment even if they have had a previous vaccination for meningococcal disease. We also continue to advise that any students experiencing symptoms of meningococcal meningitis -- fever, severe headache, and sensitivity to bright light, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash and lethargy -- seek medical attention immediately.

In alerting the student body about the health risks, we worked in close cooperation with Student Health Service, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, city public health officials, and the Centers for Disease Control to ensure timely release of information without raising the level of alarm beyond what was necessary. We sent an initial email to all members of the University community on Thursday alerting them to the first two confirmed cases and providing basic information about the disease. On Friday, we issued a second email alert to all Penn students about an additional confirmed case and announcing the cancelation of all official University and student-sponsored parties for the weekend. Athletic and performing arts events were held as scheduled. Sunday, we issued a third email to all members of the community updating the improved status of the hospitalized students and announcing normal hours and operations on Monday.

In addition to the emails, we have been updating the Student Health Service homepage with announcements and provided a banner link from the University’s home page. To see the updates, visit:

It is too early to say with absolute confidence that there is no more danger. However, with our hospitalized students recovering, no additional confirmed cases, and targeted distribution of preventative treatment to students with a likelihood of exposure, there is every reason to be optimistic.