Bacterial meningitis case confirmed in Watauga County

Anne Buie

A case of bacterial meningitis was confimred in Watauga County Wednesday afternoon, according to a press release from  Appalachian District Health Department.

The patient is an Appalachian State University student, who was admitted to an area hospital Monday evening. The name of the student and hospital has not been released.

Director of Student Health Services Dr. Bob Ellison has worked with the hospital and the patient and said the patient is stable and showing signs of improvement.

“What we understand is – the best information that everyone has gathered – the student probably started getting sick while home at Thanksgiving, developed some symptoms on their return to campus on Sunday, got worse on Monday, chose not to go to class on Monday and roommate and friends took the student to the hospital for evaluation Monday evening,” Ellison said.

Students considered to be at risk for the disease because they were in close contact with the patient have been identified and are not sick but were given proper medication, according to the press release.

Ellison said the student, a freshman, received a meningococcal vaccination in June prior to coming to Appalachian but still fell ill.

“Probably what this means is that one of the meningococcal family members, one of the members of that bacterial family that is not covered or not protected by the vaccine, was the cause,” Ellison said. “So the vaccine is highly effective, but it is not 100 percent effective.”

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include “sudden onset of fever, intense headache, nausea and frequent vomiting, stiff neck and sensitivity to light,” according to the press release.

Meningitis can be life threatening, Ellison said, but that has not been the case with this student.

“It can, in a matter of hours, cause a cascade or a domino type of chain reaction of total body shut down where the lungs stop working, the kidneys stop producing urine, the blood pressure drops and the person, even though you’re doing all the right things
intensively, the person is dying in front of your eyes,” he said. “Fortunately, that’s not the scenario with this student and we’re so glad for that.”

Students who live in the same dormitory as the patient have been notified of the situation, educated on proper preventative techniques and were offered a one-time, oral antibiotic if they wanted one. Ellison said they gave out an antibiotic to 140 students.

Questions or concerns about the meningococcal disease can be addressed to Health Services.


Story: MICHAEL BRAGG, Editor-in-Chief