Meningococcal meningitis claims student’s life

Kristin Marx, 20, was a management sophomore.

Rocky Thompson

A University undergraduate student and sorority member diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis was pronounced dead midday Thursday.

Kristin Marx, 20, a Carlson School of Management sophomore from Madison, Wis., was admitted to Fairview Medical Center late Tuesday.

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, director of the University’s student health service, said he’s not familiar with too many specifics of Marx’s case, but fatal cases of the disease typically involve “overwhelming infection” of organs, liver failure and low blood pressure.

“She wasn’t able to fight it off,” Ehlinger said. “It’s just one of those stories of tragedy.”

Ehlinger said the mortality rate goes up when someone enters the critical stage of the disease, but he could not say by how much.

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial disease transmitted through oral secretions with a 10 percent to 15 percent mortality rate.

Fifteen percent to 20 percent of people have meningococcal bacteria living in their throats, but it does not react adversely with their bodies, Ehlinger said.

“We don’t know what happens – why some people get infected and some don’t,” he said.

The disease is characterized by the sudden onset of fever, vomiting, headache, confusion and, in some cases, seizures.

“It’s just the way the bacteria works. It comes on very fast and hard,” said David Golden, director of public health, marketing and program development for Boynton Health Service.

“It’s very rare,” Golden said. “The last case was four years ago.”

Late Wednesday, Boynton officials spoke with 80 people who had come in contact with Marx over the previous seven days, Golden said.

Most of the period when the bacteria could have spread fell over spring break, which might have helped lower the number of people who could have been exposed.

Doctors and nurses assessed the risk of the patients on a personal basis and prescribed for 63 people a single oral antibiotic, Golden said.

Ehlinger said unless an individual has had direct contact with the ill person’s oral secretions, they are not considered to be at risk.

Kissing and sharing drinks or smoking materials could transmit the disease.

The last time meningitis was treated on campus, Golden said, it was an isolated case, as most are.

“There’s a lot that is really not known about the spread of meningitis,” Golden said.

University Counseling and Consulting Services has been made available to help members of Marx’s sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and her parents.

University administrators notified the campus community of the case by e-mail Wednesday.

Marx’s parents made the decision to make the information about their daughter’s condition public out of concern for the welfare of other University students.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

On March 6, the Minnesota House of Representatives introduced a bill that would require all public and private universities statewide to provide information on the risks of meningococcal disease and effectiveness of vaccines.

If passed, incoming first-year students at the University would be required to sign a waiver stating they have received and reviewed the information and chosen not to be vaccinated.

Golden said vaccines against meningococcal disease are approximately 70 percent effective.

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