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Emergency Legal Response to Meningitis Outbreak at Princeton University

posted on Wed, Nov 27 2013 9:15 am by Western Region

The Network was contacted by a requestor with two questions regarding response to a recent outbreak of meningitis at Princeton University. The requestor wanted to know if the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had issued an emergency declaration in order to facilitate off use drug therapy or vaccines in this situation. Further, she asked whether the State of New Jersey could quarantine for meningitis under its own authority if meningitis is not on the Federal list of diseases for which quarantine is permissible.

The Network researched the topic and found that HHS had not issued an emergency declaration for the Princeton meningitis outbreak. The Network also found the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH), and the local boards of health within their respective jurisdictions, have the power to “[m]aintain and enforce proper and sufficient quarantine, wherever deemed necessary.” The NJDH or health officer, according to New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC) 8:57-1.11, “may, by written order, isolate or quarantine any person who has been exposed to a communicable disease as medically or epidemiologically necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, providing such period of restriction shall not exceed the period of incubation period of the disease.” Additionally, NJAC 8:57-1.5 prescribes that meningococcal invasive disease is a reportable communicable disease, and any suspected or confirmed cases must be reported immediately by telephone to health officers in each jurisdiction.

The Network pointed the requestor towards a Frequently Asked Questions document published by NJDH specifically regarding the Princeton meningitis outbreak, and followed up with new information: According to the CDC, the FDA allowed use of the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine at Princeton University under an Investigational New Drug Application (IND). The CDC started a Q & A webpage to answer questions related to this situation. At the time of the Network response, the webpage noted that the CDC's Institutional Review Board still had to approve the vaccine use procedure. Further information on INDs can be found on the FDA’s website.