Princeton Meningitis Outbreak: Reunion Hookups Carry Extra Risk

Princeton University Health Services has issued a note of caution to the estimated 24,000 people attending the annual alumni reunion this weekend, encouraging the attendees to "pay increased attention to personal hygienic practices." The Princeton reunion, well-documented for its “hook-up culture” and high alcohol consumption, coincides this year with a campus outbreak of bacterial meningitis.

According to a statement released by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) on May 28, due to the fact that the NJDOH, in consultation with the CDC, have four identified cases diagnosed with the identical strain of the meningococcal disease,  Neisseria meningitides type B – within the past three months the NJDOH has termed the meningococcal disease occurrence to be a "school-based outbreak."

Although NJDOH is not recommending cancelling activities or events and Princeton, which includes the upcoming alumni reunion, the report stresses the importance of “good hygiene habits” in order to prevent the potential spread of the meningococcal disease. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), bacterial meningitis is contagious, but is generally transmitted through direct exchange of "respiratory and throat secretions" by close personal contact, such as sharing drinks, kissing, and being in close proximity for a lengthy period of time. All of which occur at high levels at Princeton Reunions and on campus in general.

Reunions, as the annual alumni bacchanal is known, is one of the largest regular alumni gathering in the United States. The annual gathering is just one of several events at Princeton University that highlights libertine attitudes towards sexuality and relationships. According to many students, alumni, and faculty members, the “hook-up culture” — a sexual and social atmosphere marked by impulsive sexual decision — making and uncommitted relationships — is the dominant ethos on campus.

Norman Thomas, the valedictorian of Princeton’s class of 1905, a clergyman, and a perennial Socialist candidate for president, rarely, if ever, missed a reunion of his class. "Some things in life justify themselves emotionally, without necessity for analytic reasoning," Thomas was quoted as saying. "On the whole, Princeton reunions fall in that category. In my moralizing moments, I may regret that reunions are too greatly inspired by the prayer: 'Make me a sophomore again just for tonight,' which prayer, with the aid of a sometimes excessive consumption of the spirituous, rather than the spiritual, often seems to be granted."

According to the CDC, approximately 4,000 cases of bacterial meningitis are contracted in the United States annually, of which roughly 500 cases are fatal. However, in an atmosphere that seems to transport an alumnus to a dimension where his youth never truly ended, will "good hygiene practices," be on anyone’s mind?