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Health Officials: KU Student Died Of Meningitis

Johnson County health officials confirmed that a 19-year-old University of Kansas student who died this weekend had come down with bacterial meningitis.

Leawood resident Haley Drown, who graduated from Blue Valley North High School last year, was pronounced dead on Sunday.

In a statement, James Joerke, deputy director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said, “We are saddened to hear the news that we have lost a young member of our community to such a rare illness. Most bacteria that cause meningitis are harmless to those who carry it. However, in a susceptible person, these bacteria can cause a wide range of diseases, from bronchitis to ear and sinus infections to life-threatening pneumonia, meningitis, and less frequently, bacteria in the blood.”

The department said that Drown’s meningitis was caused by a fairly rare bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae, which affects fewer than 1 in 100,000 people a year.

The Kansas City Star reported that officials with St. Luke’s Health Systems, where Drown was treated, said a sinus infection overtook her immune system and infected her brain.

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. The germs that cause it are not spread by casual contact or through the air. Antibiotics are used to treat it and certain vaccines can help prevent it.

Drown had just finished her freshman year at KU. University officials said students moved out of their residence halls more than two weeks ago. The disease’s incubation period is no more than 10 days, so it’s unlikely she came down with the disease at KU, university officials said.   

Andy Marso, a reporter with Heartland Health Monitor, was the last KU student to contract bacterial meningitis on campus, in 2004. Marso came down with meningitis B just three weeks before his scheduled graduation and was placed in a medically induced coma. All of his toes and fingers, except for his right thumb, had to be amputated.

Marso wrote a book about his experience, “Worth the Pain: How Meningitis Nearly Killed Me – Then Changed My Life for the Better.”

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

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