March 5, 2001

Cornell Freshman Recovering From Rare Bacterial Infection

Print More

North Campus residents received an e-mail from Gannett: Cornell University Health Services Saturday to alert them of a meningitis case in Jameson Hall. Gannett staff treated a male freshman who was suffering from meningococcal disease, a rare strain of meningitis.

On Thursday, the 19-year-old student visited Gannett suffering from mild flu-like symptoms, according to Sharon Dittman, the associate director of community relations for Gannett.

Dittman said that Gannett staff members attending him noticed his symptoms worsening during his visit, which suggested the rare but serious infection.

“One of the really scary things about this disease is how fast it progresses,” she said.

She noted that after doctors identified the disease, the student’s symptoms worsened further and he was given antibiotics.

He was then transported to Cayuga Medical Center for immediate treatment.

Due to patient confidentiality, officials at Cayuga Medical Center could not comment on the student’s condition.

Dittman informed residential advisors at Jameson that the student’s condition has been improving since Saturday.

“He’s doing a lot better,” she said, noting that on Saturday the student’s health had improved to the point where he was receiving visitors.

“I think Gannett really did a good job in this case. This was a really close call,” said President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

Rawlings wished to show his appreciation for Gannett’s quick identification of the infection which can be misidentified because of its common symptoms.

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria, meningococcus, and can manifest itself in two forms. The disease is spread through air and through contact with the infected person.

This latest case is meningococcal meningitis.

The second form, meningococcemia, was identified at Cornell on Nov. 30, 1999, in a 19-year-old female sophomore. Her condition was also severe but improved after medical treatment.

Each strain exhibits fever, severe headaches, changes in mental stability, vomiting, neck stiffness and possible rash as its symptoms, according to Gannett’s web-site.

Only about 3,000 cases of meningococcal disease are identified throughout the country each year, with only around 120 of those cases affecting college students, according to Dittman.

“This … disease usually occurs in isolated cases in children or young adults, but has some potential in a campus setting to occur in multiple individuals,” stated Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, the director of Gannett, in her e-mail to North Campus.

Although it is a very serious infection, the disease is not spread by casual contact.

Around 10 percent of the population carries the disease without symptoms or knowledge of its presence because it can lie dormant.

Also it cannot live outside the body for long periods of time, thus preventing the possibility for widespread infection, Dittman noted.

Dittman stresses that Gannett released information about the student not to frighten the community but to comply with regulations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and inform about the potentially fatal disease.

“This is a time of year when a lot of bugs are going around. If people are sick they should start noticing for more severe symptoms,” Dittman said.

In Corson-Rikert’s e-mail, she highlighted some precautionary measures to prevent spread of the disease.

These measures include frequent hand-washing, avoiding the sharing of utensils, lipstick and chapstick, close sneezing and coughing and any other activity that compromises the immune system.

“The prevention [information] is pretty important. It’s probably the best things we can do to prevent the disease,” Dittman noted.

According to Dittman, the CDC automatically issues a review of every case of this strain of meningitis.

In order to comply with this inquiry, Gannett notified those who may have been in direct contact with the student.

She said that Gannett follows the CDC’s stance on vaccination, that although meningitis is rare the CDC recommends that college students consider vaccination if they are in close quarters with other students.

“It’s not 100 percent,” she noted stating that the vaccination does not completely protect against the disease and that the $75 price tag may keep students from receiving it.

For more information about the disease and its vaccination contact Gannett at 255-5155 or visit

Archived article by Carlos Perkins