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Brace yourselves, meningitis is coming


Shout it in the streets. Spam the email inboxes. And, for god's sake, somebody put an article in the 'Prince.' Autumn is coming to an end, we are severely unprepared, and meningitis is coming. The fatalities are multiplying, and soon the dead will rise again as throngs of the ... six, you say? Only six students and a visitor have been diagnosed with meningitis? Well, the term “outbreak” is thrown around rather loosely nowadays, isn’t it?

Last weekend, I received a frantic call from my mother telling me to get the new vaccine as soon as it’s available. My response was, “What vaccine?” She claimed that Princeton had made national news as a result of meningitis and spoke of some new European vaccine. I was skeptical, to say the least, but lo and behold, a quick Internet search found headlines everywhere proclaiming the outbreak of meningitis on the Princeton campus. There was even a clip of Lester Holt warning the nation about the “increasing sense of urgency” surrounding our campus on the NBC Nightly News. I guess I didn’t get the memo. Granted, I may have been unusually uninformed. Most students I talked to afterward already knew about the vaccine. The increasing sense of urgency, however, was nowhere to be found.


When one thinks of an outbreak, images of overflowing hospitals, ailing people in the streets and probably at least one fatality come to mind. My sympathies go out to all those students who have had to deal with this illness, but I would hardly call seven cases an outbreak. More importantly, I am not an outlier. Few students I’ve spoken to are taking this seriously at all. I’ve never even heard meningitis referenced in conversation beyond the sly quip about avoiding “the menge.” Frankly, if I had not had such a concerned mother, meningitis would never have crossed my mind. Then again, I’m not a doctor. Perhaps, semantically speaking, based on statistics and calculations by the Centers for Disease Control, this is technically an outbreak. I’ll even concede that meningitis is a serious disease with serious risks. However, when headlines start using words like "outbreak," "urgency," "emergency," etc., they are implying something beyond the technical definition of outbreak. The media seems to be implying a cultural change, a noticeable increase in the anxiety we are feeling on a day-to-day basis. At the very least, news reports are suggesting that students widely acknowledge this as a serious problem, which simply isn’t true. There is a clear distinction between the way the headlines are portraying the situation and the way we, as students, are experiencing it.

Then again, maybe I’m being brash and insensitive. Maybe seven cases of meningitis actually do imply a serious health threat to students. Maybe Lester Holt was right all along. But then there is another, potentially much more serious problem with this situation. If meningitis is posing as serious a health risk as the news suggests, then why doesn’t anybody care? Obviously, as students, we are wrapped up in our daily chores of homework, extracurriculars and athletics. If this is something we should actually be worried about, then the University has failed to get that point across. I’ve gotten enough emails to know not to share water bottles, to always wash my hands and to never kiss girls. But emails will not change behaviors so easily. If we never seriously think of meningitis as a threat, why would we ever go out of our way to change our daily routines? We have enough on our minds already, and six cases of students falling ill are hardly enough to hold our attention for very long. The administration seems to think this is serious enough to warrant some kind of European vaccine. It would be great if, in the meantime, it let the students know that this is something we should actually be concerned about (and I’m not talking about another email). If students need to take this seriously, then certainly the University needs to as well.

Either the headlines are blowing this out of proportion or students are ignoring a serious threat to their well-being. Either way, something doesn’t match up. Of course, I’m more inclined to believe what I see, not what I hear from Lester Holt and USA Today. So while the world keeps its eyes fixed upon our little campus, praying for the control of this deadly outbreak, I will continue not thinking or caring about it in any way.

ChristianWawrzonek is a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pa. He can be reached at