After death, U officials call meningitis risks ‘generally low’

Branden Peterson

University officials said students should not be concerned about their safety following the death of University sophomore Kristin Marx from bacterial meningitis last week.

Officials said the chances of additional infections on campus are small because the disease is so rare.

“I think the risks are generally low,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Boynton Health Service director. “We’re always watching for this. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these are isolated cases.”

Only individuals who have direct contact through saliva with infected people, through activities such as kissing, sharing drinks or smoking materials, are considered at risk. However, even that risk is low.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, bacterial meningitis is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacterium. It is one of several ways meningitis can infect.

The meningitis-causing bacteria exist in the noses and throats of 10 percent to 15 percent of the population. Typically, Ehlinger said, people’s immune systems eliminate the meningitis bacteria before it causes infections.

Meningococcal disease can infect the spinal cord’s lining, infect the blood and possibly cause pneumonia.

Generally, medical officials believe a weakened immune system leaves a person at risk for bacteria to enter the bloodstream, causing an infection.

Ehlinger said people should not feel more at risk of contracting the disease now or worry they are carrying the bacteria in their secretions.

“Nothing is different now than it was six months ago,” he said.

Those feeling at risk can receive a vaccination for $70 at Boynton. Officials said they have not seen a rise in demand this week after diagnosing the meningitis case.

The University insurance plan does not cover the vaccination.

According to the state Department of Health, meningitis symptoms involve fever, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, sleepiness, confusion, irritability, lack of appetite, a rash or seizures.

With such a multitude of possible symptoms, Ehlinger said, it takes a “constellation of things” before doctors will test for the disease because of its rarity.

Ehlinger said people with the bacteria can be infected for as many as 10 days before showing symptoms.