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TUCSON, Ariz. - A 20-year-old woman has died from meningococcal meningitis, sending health officials hurriedly to prescribe antibiotics to more than 50 of her friends and family members.
There was no information on how the woman may have become infected with the lethal bacterium, but officials say humans often carry it without becoming ill.
No further cases have developed. Meningococcal meningitis causes inflammation of the brain and spinal fluid.
Meningitis can be spread by two different pathogens. The bacterial form, caused by Neisseria meningitidis, is also known as meningococcal meningitis. While this form usually begins with flu-like symptoms, it can quickly cause a headache, fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck, and patients complain about bright lights. Within a few hours, this bacterium can push a person to delirium, coma, or convulsions. It develops in the bloodstream and if the bacterium goes untreated, it can invade organs, cause a hemorrhagic rash, and gangrene. It is fatal in 15% of patients treated with antibiotics and 50% of patients who go untreated.
The viral form of meningitis is more common. It is also less likely to cause illness or death. Many people recover from the infection on their own, while some require an antiviral medication. According to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is caused by enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. Herpesviruses and the mumps virus can also cause viral meningitis.
Most people recover in 7-10 days from their infection.
Both the bacterial and viral forms of meningitis cause the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord to swell. An infection can be serotyped after fluid is collected via a spinal tap. The most commons serotypes in young adults are A and C.
Three other people have become infected with meningococcal meningitis in Tucson this year.
Information from the Associated Press, staff research