Meningitis Outbreak at UC Santa Barbara

PHOTO: Besser, right, says a stiff neck is a sign that the illness is more severe.
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A fourth student at the University of California Santa Barbara has come down with a strain of meningitis similar to the one that sickened eight Princeton University students in New Jersey, authorities said.

The California students began getting sick about three weeks ago, according to a university statement. One student had to have both legs amputated, ABC News has learned.

"He's from my hometown. I hope he is doing well," said David Burkow, another student. "It's just kind of scary because there is a constant fear."

Read about the Princeton University meningitis outbreak.

The California school has suspended social events, including sorority and fraternity parties, to avoid transmission, according to the university statement on Monday.

Fraternity member Jared Dinges said he has a few "rules of thumb" for steering clear of the rare and potentially deadly disease.

"Just don't share bottles," he said. "Try to avoid kissing new girls -- things like that. Just be safe."

The school has already handed out antibiotics to those who were close to the four sick students.

A similar rare strain of meningitis -- meningococcal type B – has already infected eight undergraduate students at Princeton University on the other side of the country since last March. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they are not connected because the diseases do not have the same "fingerprint."

"Just getting calls from your parents and relatives asking what's going on, it's a little bit scary," Princeton student Maddy Russell told Good Morning America a few weeks ago.

There is no vaccine for Princeton's meningitis strain approved in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration has approved importing an domestically unapproved vaccine for the Ivy League students. It is approved in Australia and Europe, but not in the United States. The school is expected to offer 6,000 doses on Dec. 9.

Meningitis symptoms feel a lot like the flu, with a fever and body pains, but a stiff neck is the telltale sign that the illness is much more serious, said Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News.

Without rapid treatment, about 10 percent of those infected could die, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Patients who survive risk permanent brain and hearing damage.

The bacterium that causes meningitis lives in the nose, but most people don't get sick, Besser noted. Close contact -- such as living in a dorm -- can spread it.

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