Students and faculty at West Chester University are mourning the loss of one of their own — third-year music major Sean Casey who died of bacterial meningitis this week.
While university officials have encouraged students to seek treatment if they experience symptoms, the disease requires some effort to contract.
Bacterial meningitis is caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It usually starts with a headache and fever and pain or stiffness in the neck. Symptoms can progress rapidly, leading in some cases to delirium or a coma … and in this case death.
Though this infection is thought of as epidemic and transmissible, it’s not as easy to catch as, say, the common cold, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine says.
“The bacteria is carried up in the back of the throat and is transmitted through close proximity to others … really close proximity. Kissing might be one way it’s transmitted, but just being very close to someone within two or three feet of them and sharing their air space,” he said. “Regular attendance at bars and smoking are aspects that contribute to the transmission of bacteria from one person to another.”
Schaffner says it’s possible to carry the bacteria in the throat without getting sick and still be contagious.
Viral meningitis, which is spread through fecal contamination, is a much milder form of the illness. Those who get that usually recover uneventfully in a few days.
Schaffner says the meningitis vaccine effectively protects against most kinds of bacterial meningitis. Since the disease most commonly affects young adults, it’s recommended for all students entering college.