Students at the University of St Andrews have been warned about a potentially deadly meningitis outbreak after two people fell ill in the past week.
Two separate cases involving two separate strains of the deadly bacteria infection have been identified, prompting calls for the student body and their friends and family members to be vigilant about possible symptoms.
It has emerged that one of the students struck down was initially said to be fighting for their life in hospital, although their condition is understood to have improved slightly.
They remain, however, in intensive care and in a stable condition.
The second student also required hospital treatment but has since been discharged.
No further details have been divulged about the pair of students affected, but the two instances have sparked cause for concern.
University Proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, has contacted all students via e-mail to keep them informed of the latest developments.
“The small number of people who were in prolonged close contact with both students have been identified and offered antibiotics,” she said.
“It is important to stress that the strains of bacteria isolated from the two students are different, hence the cases are sporadic and entirely unrelated.
“Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially very serious condition.
“There are around 10 cases a year in Fife for a population of about 360,000 people.
“The organism that causes meningococcal disease is a normal inhabitant of the human nose and throat and most people develop immunity to the bacteria within two weeks of acquiring it.
“The percentage of people who carry the bacteria varies by age and is about 2% in children under five years to around 25% in 15 to 19 year olds.
“People who carry the bacteria do not usually develop the illness.
“Rarely, a small number of people develop meningococcal disease instead of developing immunity.”
Professor Milne added that the meningococcal organism is not readily transmissible between people, confirming that it takes “prolonged, close contact” for the organism to be transmitted from one person to another.
“Examples include people living in the same household, sexual partners, or a long car journey like sharing a small car from St Andrews to Birmingham,” she pointed out.
“Antibiotics are not normally given to casual contacts of meningococcal infection as there is no evidence that further cases will be prevented.
“Obviously, it is important that meningococcal infection is recognised early and appropriate medical advice and treatment sought, and we would therefore advise you to familiarise yourself with symptoms and signs of infection.”
Students have been furnished with information explaining the signs and symptoms of meningitis, and anyone who believes they have symptoms should contact NHS 24 by calling 111.
The University’s Student Services department is also on hand to field any queries from students concerned about the situation. Professional staff are available on 01334 462020 during office hours, while someone will be available on the University’s helpline on 01334 476161 outside office hours.
The charity Meningitis Research also has a 24-hour free helpline on 0808 800 3344.
A helpful description and explanation of symptoms can be found here.