Archive for Sunday, January 18, 2004

WSU student’s meningitis death appears isolated

University to send mass e-mail to student body on 1st day of classes

January 18, 2004

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— A 20-year-old Wichita State University student has died of bacterial meningitis.

Health officials were investigating Friday's death of Vadim Downey, of Cheney, but they said the case appeared to be isolated.

Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling of the meninges, the layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Its symptoms resemble flu's fever, aches and pains, but it includes a severe headache, health officials say.

The Sedgwick County Health Department is continuing to track people with whom Downey had contact and to offer preventive antibiotics if needed. No other cases have been found.

A Wichita State University spokesman said a mass e-mail would be sent to students when classes resume Tuesday, alerting them to signs of the disease.

Wichita physician Tom Moore, an infectious disease specialist, said he had seen two patients with bacterial meningitis this season, but the cases appeared to be unrelated. Meningitis occurs most frequently in the fall and winter.

Meningitis can be more worrisome when cases seem to be related, such as the two students in a dorm at Pittsburg State University who were hospitalized in December for meningitis. They both recovered.

A vaccine is available, but it costs $90 and isn't routinely recommended.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that parents look into the vaccine for college freshmen who will live in a dorm because the meningitis risk is higher where people are living in close quarters.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius urged state university officials to distribute information about preventing the spread of meningitis on college campuses, especially in dormitories.

Sebelius, in a letter to the Kansas Board of Regents, asked the board to consider raising awareness about immunization for meningitis among incoming college freshmen and their parents through student housing contracts.

Todd Cohen, a Kansas University spokesman, said the university began distributing information about bacterial meningitis to incoming freshmen in 2001. Students receive a letter at their homes after they've been accepted, and then hear about meningitis again from health professionals at orientation.

Both in the letters and the presentations, students are urged to be vaccinated for meningitis. The vaccines are available for $65 at KU's Watkins Student Health Center.

The last case of bacterial meningitis at KU was in 2002, when an education professor was diagnosed with the infection. A KU freshman student died of meningitis in 1997.

Moore said bacterial meningitis scares people because of the rapidity with which it progresses.

But it is rare, he said, and the general public shouldn't be worried. In 2002, eight cases of bacterial meningitis were reported in Kansas.

A funeral service for Downey will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Trinity United Christian Church in Cheney.

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