Meningitis surfaces at CSU

Mar 272005
Authors: Caroline Welch

A freshman student is in Poudre Valley Hospital after being diagnosed with Meningocococal Meningitis Friday.

The student, who lives on Westfall Hall's ninth floor, showed flu-like symptoms over the past couple days. He went to Hartshorn Health Service and was then transported by an ambulance to PVH, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. His condition is improving, and he has since been released from ICU and is in stable condition.

Meningocococal Meningitis, a bacterial form of Meningitis, is one of numerous viral and bacterial forms of the disease, but it is the most common form for college students, who are at a higher risk of getting the disease, said Dr. Jane Higgins, infection control physician for Hartshorn.

The rare but severe form of the disease can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, said Lisa Duggan, infection control nurse for Hartshorn.

"(The disease) is extremely rare," Duggan said. "But it progresses fast and can produce seizures, coma and death pretty rapidly."

Adam Kremers, the student's resident assistant, noticed the student had been taking hour-long showers to alleviate fever fluctuations.

"I was worried," Kremers said. "He hadn't eaten in three days."

Duggan said the higher risk comes from higher levels of activity taking a toll on the body, such as staying up late studying. But despite the higher risk among college students, the disease is not easily spread, Duggan said.

This type of the disease is spread through close, personal contact with an infected person, which may include living in the same house, sharing sleeping arrangements, sharing cigarettes, food, drinks or other saliva-containing objects, or kissing the infected person, Duggan said. Living in the same building, however, is not considered a threat.

"Casual contact like sharing a classroom or sitting at the same table with the person is not significant," Duggan said. "Living on the floor does not put (a person) at risk."

Duggan said the bacteria do not live long without a host, so passing the disease through shared surfaces is not a concern.

There has not been an incidence of the disease on campus in several years. CSU had one suspected but unconfirmed case two or three years ago, Higgins told The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Larimer County had one bacterial meningitis case in 2004, one in 2003, one in 2001 and three in 2000, Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, told the Coloradoan.

E-mails were sent out to students who live in the residence halls and information sessions were held over the weekend for students who thought they had close contact with the student. Hartshorn is offering free antibiotics for students who feel they are at risk and may have come into contact with the disease.

"Ciprofloxacin is a one-time prophylactic that students should get as soon as possible after contact with the student," Higgins said. "The sooner the better."

The antibiotic is the only post-exposure cure, but it is ineffective 14 days after contact with an infected person, Higgins said. Students who are younger than 18 or pregnant should not take the antibiotic, she said.

A student does not need to show any signs of the disease to get the antibiotic, Higgins said, and getting the vaccine after exposure will not counter the disease. It will only prevent against future encounters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness. The symptoms can develop in as few as one or two days or over several days.

Sharlene Lucero, a freshman English education major who lives on the floor, said she wasn't concerned, but she did notice less traffic on her floor.

"People are freaking out," Lucero said. "They won't stop the elevator on the ninth floor. They're quarantining us."

Bob Clancy, a freshman business major, said he was worried when he found out his floor-mate had Meningitis, but his nerves calmed when he found out how hard the disease was to spread and that the student was stable.

"I am feeling better to hear that he is OK," Clancy said.

The case comes a year after a bill was passed in the state legislature to require Colorado campuses to show proof they have informed students about Meningitis. CSU sends information to parents of incoming freshmen and requires a signature as part of the paperwork needed to begin school.

"This really doesn't change what CSU has done for years," Higgins said.

Higgins said Hartshorn offers the Meningitis vaccine for $80 during regular immunization hours – weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon and between 1 and 4 p.m.


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