Death puts Frostburg State on medical alert; Health center crowded after student dies of meningitis-like illness


FROSTBURG -- Frostburg State University students crowded into the campus health center yesterday as school and local health officials sought to calm fears on the 5,000-student campus in Western Maryland in the wake of the death of a student from a meningitis-like infection Tuesday.

"I'm scared," said Shane Robinson, 22, a senior from Perry Hall, as he waited at the university's Brady Health Center yesterday afternoon.

"I've felt fine, but I wanted to get checked out anyway," he said. "Better safe than sorry. It's not often something like this happens up here."

Robinson was one of those recommended for a checkup because he was at a fraternity party Friday night also attended by the student -- Jesse Gardiner, 18, of Frederick -- who died.

Dr. Sue Raver, medical deputy of Allegany County Health Department, said Gardiner did not die of meningitis, but of a blood infection caused by the same bacteria that can cause meningitis.

She said that bacteria cannot live in the air, so direct saliva contact is needed for transmission. Even among families of victims, the bacteria is transmitted to only four of 1,000 people.

"Of course there is shock when someone so young dies so suddenly. Those who knew him are quite upset," said Frostburg President Catherine Gira. "The other students are concerned, a few might have been panicked, but most of them just want information and that is what we are trying to give them. They are asking very intelligent questions."

Complicating the situation is a flu epidemic that has been sweeping Frostburg for several weeks. The symptoms of meningitis and the flu are similar. Rumors swept the campus yesterday of three to five new meningitis-type cases in the hospital.

"There have been no new cases," said school spokesman Ty DeMartino. "Some people have gone to the hospital, either because they were concerned and the Brady center was closed or because they had a high fever from the flu. The longer we go without a new case, the more this looks like an isolated incident."

Gira said, "Some parents have called up and asked their children to come home. We understand that. I think of how I would have felt when my children were away at college."

Gardiner became sick over the weekend and entered a local hospital Monday. Campus officials were informed Tuesday of his illness and called a meeting in his dormitory -- Sowers Hall -- for that night. By the time it was convened, Gardiner had died.

Campus officials -- who had prepared a fact sheet on the incident and disease for distribution to the campus before Gardiner's death -- said more than 300 students have been screened at the health center as of late yesterday afternoon, though not all received treatment.

"We were able to talk to the patient on Tuesday and learn the names of the people he was closest to," said Raver of the county Health Department. "They were treated that day. We are now dealing with others who might have had contact with him."

Raver said two antibiotic treatments are used -- four doses over four days for those most at risk and a one-dose treatment for the 90 students who live in Sowers Hall or the 200 who attended parties at the Delta Chi fraternity house Thursday or Friday night where glasses, silverware or cigarettes might have been shared.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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