On Oct. 18, Sara Stelzer, a freshman at San Diego State University, and a Moorpark High School alumnus, was taken off life support after being infected with meningococcal meningitis.
There has been some confusion among the public as to when Stelzer died. SDSU released a statement saying that she had died Friday morning, while other news organizations published stories that said she died on Saturday.
Fox 5 News had recently reported that Stelzer was brain dead on Friday, but doctors kept her on life support until Saturday to sustain her organs, as she had wanted to be a donor. Stelzer’s organs saved five lives.
SDSU students and faculty at Moorpark High School chose not to comment on this story.
Meningitis is a disease that causes swelling of the meninges, or the lining of the brain, according to Simi Valley Emergency Room and Recovery Room nurse, Diane Koeritz.
“[Meningitis] is more common in college students, that’s why it is recommended for them to get vaccines… because the students are living in dorms and dorm-like facilities. That makes for a higher rate of being contagious among their peers,” Koeritz said.
Koeritz explained that one of the reasons meningitis is so dangerous is that people mistake it for the flu.
“The classic signs are high fever, super bad headache, and stiff neck… so people wouldn’t normally seek medical attention at first because they think they just have the flu,” Koeritz said.
Christina Welsbie, an emergency room nurse who works alongside Koeritz, said the form of meningitis that Stelzer had, bacterial meningitis, is the most dangerous kind.
“The way to diagnose meningitis is by doing a spinal tap,” Welsbie said. “Then they can do studies to find out if it’s viral, bacterial, or fungal.”
Welsbie said that the viral form of the disease does not usually get treated, and is not as dangerous as bacterial or fungal meningitis.
“We watch meningitis really closely, obviously any kind of meningitis is dangerous and scary so people who have the diagnosis are monitored very closely,” Welsbie said.
NBC 7 San Diego reported Wednesday that Stelzer was the third college student this year to die of this strand of the disease.
The first student who died was Stephanie Ross from Drexel University in Pennsylvania according to the Daily Princetonian. The second student was a student at University of California Santa Barbara.
SDSU’s Director of Health Services Gregg Lichtenstien told ABC 10 News that about 300-400 people were notified that they might have been exposed via Stelzer. These people were members of her sorority and people who were at either of two fraternity parties that Stelzer had recently attended. Thus far, there have not been any other reported cases of meningitis at SDSU since Stelzer’s death.
California Lutheran University’s Director of Health Services Kerri Lauchner said she studies infectious diseases very closely to know as much as possible about them.
“Bacterial meningitis is not easily spread but can be spread by kissing, and sharing eating utensils and drinks. It is not spread through the air,” Lauchner said.
She explained that Cal Lutheran undergraduate students are given information about meningitis in the health service forms that all new students receive.
There is a vaccination for meningitis, but it does not prevent the B-strain, the strain that Stelzer contracted, according to NBC 7 San Diego. They reported that as of now the B-strain vaccination is only available in Europe, and has not been passed by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States yet.
The latest on the meningitis scare came on Oct. 23, when Fox 5 News reported that a student at Palomar College in San Marcos was diagnosed with meningitis. They said, however, that there is no evidence that this case is connected with the case at SDSU.
Published October 29, 2014