A memorial service was held Saturday for an 18-year-old medical student studying at James Cook University in Townsville in north Queensland who died from the deadly bacterial infection, meningococcal meningitis.
In addition, a second medical student at the university has also contracted the lethal infection and is currently being treated with antibiotics.
According to an ABC News report, Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Richard Murray said the people who have been in close contact with the men have been interviewed and given antibiotics.
So far this year there have been 38 cases in Queensland; but it is believed this is the first death.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the cases of meningitis are very concerning. She goes on to say, “It is very worrying. It is tragic to see a young 18-year-old lose their life to this awful disease. That’s why Queensland Health is, as of right now, out tracing every contact that they can so that we can understand where this disease may be operating.”
Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, which causes the most severe form of bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also be found in the bloodstream. This particular type of meningitis is very severe and can result in death if not treated promptly. Even in cases where treatment has been given, the fatality rate is around 15%.
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are sudden, with fever, stiff neck, body aches and headaches. As the disease progresses other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, photophobia and seizures. A petechial rash seen on the trunk and lower extremities, bleeding complications, multi-organ failures and shock are usually final signs. This disease has the ability to kill within hours of getting it.
Up to 10-20% of older children and young adults carry this organism in the mouth and nose, though the carriage rate will vary with age and closeness of population. The majority of people that carry this bacterium have no clinical disease. The organism is spread person to person through respiratory secretions from the nose and mouth (coughing, sneezing and kissing). Experts are unsure why some people advance to meningitis disease while many do not.
Crowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the organisms and places like military barracks and college dormitories are well documented areas of concern with this disease.
What can you do to protect your family? You should get family members vaccinated if they fall into one of these categories prescribed by the CDC:
• If you have a high risk child from 2 to 10 years old.
• It is recommended to vaccinate children 11-18 years old.
• If you are a military recruit
• Other medical conditions (an absent or damaged spleen)
• Traveling to a country where the disease is common.
If you have close contact with someone with meningococcal meningitis, see your doctor for prophylactic antibiotics.
Meningococcal meningitis is a devastating disease with epidemic potential. This disease is considered a medical emergency and if you have the classic symptoms see your health care professional. It can be treated with antibiotics, but without delay.
Around 11,500 students study at JCU Townsville, including over 1,500 international students. The campus is located in the suburb of Douglas, in a 386-hectare natural bush and parkland setting, 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the central business district.