Princeton's annual alumni bacchanal is in crisis. Reunions, as the well-documented event is known, coincides this year with a campus-wide outbreak of meningitis. Festivities are scheduled for next weekend, but a recent string of diagnoses affecting three students and one visitor has placed the Ivy League school on edge, says Bloomberg News. Reporter (and Columbia alum) Janet Lorin cites an official Princeton directive instructing alumni "to pay increased attention to personal hygienic practices during Reunions" while otherwise party the weekend away under the dual influence of nostalgia and alcohol. But how serious of a threat, really, does meningitis pose to Princeton's campus-wide merriment? Not a whole lot — if Princetonians can hold off on making out too much.
The first three meningitis cases at Princeton have been attributed to a fairly mild bacterial strain known as Neisseria meningiditis, whose mortality rate (reported as 10 percent) usually accords to one's access to medical care and the exact cause of the inflammation — bacterial, viral, fungal, and so forth. (The fourth case is still being studied.) The only problem? Neisseria meningiditis spreads by the exchange of saliva, a popular activity at the notoriously libidinal Reunions. So frisky Princetonians may want to reconsider any plans to recapture their younger, freer years, and keep their cocktails to themselves. Which shouldn't be that hard.
According to New Jersey's Department of Health, which declared the outbreak earlier this week, the best precaution remains vaccination, even though the particular bacterial profile tied to the first three cases would not have been neutralized by a vaccine. (A vaccine which targets this particular profile, known as Serogroup B, is difficult to produce in large quantities, due to the bacteria's makeup and, apparently, tense Cuban-American relations.) "Adolescents and young adults may be at increased risk for infection due to certain lifestyle factors," the department further explained in a memo addressing the Princeton outbreak. Those factors include "crowded living conditions," "going to bars," and "irregular sleeping patterns." In other words, college itself.