What you should know about bacterial meningitis after Fort Myers student dies from infection

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
bacterial meningitis
FILE: Medical imaging (Credit: WINK News)

If you are a parent, you may be talking about bacterial meningitis after a local first-grader died from the infection last Friday.

The bacterial form of this meningitis is rare and very dangerous, but it’s also hard to contract. While the underlying bacteria can be transferred, it takes intimate contact to get it from another person.

A painful lesson came in the last days of the school year. The principal of Edison Park Elementary in Fort Myers announced that 7-year-old Theo Filus died after getting bacterial meningitis.

“So meningitis, when bacteria invade the fluid that covers the brain and the spinal fluid causes inflammation and costs, serious illness,” said Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, system medical director epidemiology with Lee Health.

Dr. Saunders is an infectious disease specialist. She said there are specific symptoms that point to this disease.

“A severe headache, neck stiffness, very quick high fever, development of nausea and vomiting. And in particular, for Neisseria meningitis. It may also present with a rash that looks like little splotches of purplish-red splotches underneath the skin,” said Saunders.

Although it can be spread, bacterial meningitis takes close, prolonged contact. Parents will be notified by the Department of Health if their child is at risk, but the risk to the school population is low.

“It really requires close intimate contact, so that people who are at greatest risk or those who may have been in contact with actual secretions, or family members, you know that now their child is sleeping in the same room or family members have more close intimate contact, you know, kissing, that type of contact. But in general, everyone else is not going to be at risk,” said Saunders.

This disease can become life-threatening within 24 hours. Counselors will be at the school on Tuesday to help students cope with the loss of a classmate.

Some antibiotics can treat bacterial meningitis proactively, but Dr. Saunders wanted to stress that there is a vaccine to prevent meningococcal disease. It is not required but highly recommended.

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