Penn State Reports Case of Bacterial Meningitis

Penn State University is treating a student at its main campus for meningococcal meningitis, the university confirmed Monday on its website.

The school said it identified a single case and that the unidentified student was recovering at the Mount Nittany Medical Center.

"University Health Services, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, is working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to monitor the case," the school said. "Close contacts of the student, who resides on campus, have been notified and provided with the appropriate antibiotic prophylaxis."

Meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection, can lead to inflammation of brain and spinal cord membranes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of bacterial meningitis, which is transmitted through close contact with an infected person, include stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light.

"Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be deadly," according to the CDC. "Death can occur in as little as a few hours. Most people recover from meningitis. However, permanent disabilities (such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities) can result from the infection."

The Penn State University campus is seen on November 8, 2011. The university said it is treating a student for bacterial meningitis. Rob Carr/Getty Images

An average of 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, which doctors treat with antibiotics, were reported in the U.S. each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the CDC. The infection caused about 500 annual deaths over the same period.

A CDC study published last month found that college freshmen living in dormitories were more than seven times more likely than other students to contract an infection that led to meningitis, ABC News reported. The study, which was based on data from September 1998 to August 1999, did not find a clear relationship to explain why the risk for college freshman was multiple times higher than it was for both other college students and the general population of individuals between the ages of 18 and 23. But the CDC has noted that "infectious diseases tend to spread where large groups of people gather together."

Bacterial meningitis has caused a number of deaths on college campuses in recent years.

In 2013, 19-year-old Kalamazoo College student Emily Stillman died from the infection shortly after calling her family about a headache, according to NBC News. The same year, Princeton University struggled to contain an outbreak of bacterial meningitis, NPR reported. The strain spreading across the New Jersey university killed Stephanie Ross, a student at Philadelphia's Drexel University, in 2014, according to CBS News. An 18-year-old San Diego State University student Sara Stelzer died after contracting meningitis the same year.