After a rising sophomore who reportedly carried meningococcal meningitis died Saturday, health officials said the disease poses “no increased risk” to either the Cornell community or Tompkins County residents, according to a statement released by the University Monday.
Krista Depew ’15 died early Saturday morning of the disease, according to several accounts. On Sunday, Gannett Health Services posted a statement on its website warning students of the dangers of meningitis.
“Specifically, we want people to know the signs and symptoms and the importance of seeking medical care as soon as possible when those symptoms arise,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations for Gannett.
Although Cornell is not at any greater risk for meningitis now –– according to reports from health officials from New York State, as well as from Tompkins and Washington Counties –– Dittman still emphasized the importance of informing the public about the disease.
“We want the Cornell community to learn about meningococcal disease,” she said. “It is a very rare disease, but we are reminded this week just how serious it is.”
Dittman said Gannett intends to reach out to individuals who were close to Depew at the time of her death.
“Whether they were emotionally close, such as her friends and sorority sisters, or physically close, such as people in her residence hall, we want them to have information about resources available to answer their questions and provide support,” Dittman said. “We are advising individuals who have specific concerns related to their health to talk with a health care provider.”
Theresa Lyczko, public information officer for the Tompkins County Health Department, said the she could not speak specifically to Depew’s illness and death, but that the TCHD “always recommends vaccination when possible.”
According to the American College Health Association, 70 to 80 percent of cases of meningitis are caused by “potentially vaccine-preventable strains” in people between the ages of 15 and 24. However, Depew, who had been vaccinated against meningitis, still contracted the disease.
“It is true that this vaccination does not prevent all cases of meningococcal disease,” Dittman said. “But it is highly effective against four of the five most common strains of [meningitis].”
It is unknown which strain Depew was carrying, according to Dittman, who said this information is “personal … [and] will be determined by the hospital that treated her.”
Dittman said it is important for people to identify symptoms of meningitis while it is still possible to treat the illness.
“Any time a person who has been sick with an upper respiratory infection like a cold or flu-like illness suddenly develops much more serious symptoms –– such as high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or confusion–– they should seek immediate medical attention,” Dittman said.
Dittman also emphasized that Gannett hopes to raise awareness of preventative measures against the disease.
“We … want [people] to know the measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of getting meningococcal disease, including vaccination and good hygiene,” she said.