A San Diego State freshman died on Friday, Oct. 17 from an apparent meningitis infection.
Sara Stelzer, 18, was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority at SDSU and had attended several Greek parties earlier this month, prompting officials at the university to reach out to those who may have been in contact with Stelzer so that they may receive preventative medication for the illness.
Campus admnistrators sent out a notification to all members of Kappa Delta sand those who attended parties hosted by the SDSU chapters of Alpha Epsilon Pi and Delta Sigma Phi that occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 8 and Thursday, Oct. 9, respectively.
Once Stelzer’s death was confirmed, members of the SDSU Kappa Delta sorority sent their condolences on their Facebook page on Oct. 17.
“Today we mourn the loss of our beloved sister Sara,” the chapter said. “Sara was a beautiful woman inside and out and we are honored to call her a Kappa Delta. She is greatly missed. During this time, please keep Sara’s family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Members of the SDSU Alpha Epsilon Pi also posted a statement on Facebook in which they sent their condolences and explained that they are “working to ensure that all available measures are being taken to provide for the health of [their] members and [their] campus community.”
UCSD students also received an email on Saturday, Oct. 18 about the incident and were advised to seek help immediately from an emergency medical facility if they believed they had the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningitis, or meningococcal disease, is a severe bacterial infection of the blood and brain which, if left untreated, can lead to brain damage, loss of limbs or death. Symptoms include flu-like reactions such as high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically become visible within three to seven days after exposure.
The bacteria spread through an exchange of respiratory or throat secretions. This can occur when individuals have close contact with one another through sharing drinks, toothbrushes, cigarettes, unwashed utensils and lip balm or any other direct oral contact like kissing. Teens and young adults most commonly receive it, and particularly college students living in dorms since they live in small spaces and are constantly in close contact with one another.
Discovery of the same strain of meningitis that infected several students last year at UC Santa Barbara and Princeton University exacerbated fears over the spread of the disease.
Director of Medical Services at UCSD Stacie San Miguel explained in an interview with the UCSD Guardian that the disease is extremely rare, totaling an average of 500 cases in the United States in the past year.
“When something like this happens, it can be devastating,” Miguel said. “Ten percent of people carry the bacteria in their body but don’t get sick. We don’t know why some people have severe [reaction to meningitis] and why others don’t have [a] problem with it.”
Miguel also explained that if an individual who was vaccinated for meningitis came in close respiratory contact with an individual who was not vaccinated, that person would not receive the disease. The vaccine does not contain the active bacteria but rather inactive parts of it, which allows the body to become immune to that certain strain of meningitis.
While incoming UCSD students are currently not required to be vaccinated for meningococcal disease, a general tuberculosis screening is mandatory.
President of SDSU Kappa Delta Kaitlyn Holt and President of SDSU Alpha Epsilon Pi Nick Grossberg were unable to be reached by press time for comment.