May 26, 2012

After Student Death, Gannett Warns Cornell of Meningitis

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Updated with reporting from the Post-Star

Gannett Health Services warned students of the dangers of meningococcal meningitis in a statement posted on its website Sunday.

The announcement follows the death of Krista Depew ’15 early Saturday morning. Depew suffered from an “acute illness,” according to a message from President David Skorton later that day.

“Many people only learn about [meningitis] when it is in the news or affects someone they know. It is then that they learn how serious it can be and how devastating to all involved,” the news release stated.

Claudia Wheatley, deputy director of University press relations, said Sunday night that the University was not yet able to disclose more specifics regarding Depew’s death, but that more information was likely forthcoming.

The Post-Star, a newspaper printed in the Adirondack region of New York, reported Sunday that Depew had meningitis at the time of her death. Quoting Marsha Depew, Krista’s mother, the paper said that Krista had complained of not feeling well before she returned home to Argyle, N.Y., from her first year at Cornell.

According to the paper, Marsha Depew said Krista felt sick after playing ball with her nieces on Thursday. On Friday, the story continues, she was told by a doctor that she probably had the flu. She died Saturday.

Marsha Depew is also quoted in the paper as saying that Krista received a vaccination against meningitis. The disease is known to strike quickly and often suddenly, according to WebMD.

First-year college students living in residence halls are at a “higher risk” of contracting meningococcal meningitis, a disease which comes in several forms, than the general population, according to a separate section of Gannett’s website. Citing the the American College Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gannett’s website recommends that new students be vaccinated before matriculating to Cornell.

Though the meningococcal vaccine does not protect against every form of the disease, 70- to 80-percent of meningitis cases in those aged 15 to 24 are caused by “potentially vaccine-preventable strains,” Gannett’s website states.

In 2008, two Cornell students were diagnosed with the disease within one week. Neither died, but Gannett prescribed the antibiotic Cipro to about 140 students who may have been in close contact with the students.

The possibly avoidable prevalence of meningitis among college freshmen has led some activists and lawmakers to seek new solutions. In May 2011, for instance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that made the state the first to require that every college student receive a vaccination for bacterial meningitis.

“I think it brings meaning to Nicolis’s death,” Texas State Senator Wendy Davis told The New York Times about the bill, which was introduced after Texas A&M student named Nicolis Williams died of the disease in February 2011. “From this day forward, we’ll never know, of course, whose life was saved as a consequence, but no doubt there will be people whose lives are saved.”

Check on Monday for updates on this story.

Original Author: Jeff Stein