WASHINGTON – A University of Maryland student was hospitalized Tuesday with what appeared to be a bacterial form of meningitis and College Park officials were seeking anyone who may have been in close contact with him.
The student, identified only as a 20-year-old fraternity member on the College Park campus, was admitted to Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham on Tuesday morning.
The diagnosis of meningitis had not been confirmed by Tuesday afternoon, but campus health officials said they were confident the diagnosis would bear out. The bacterial form of the disease is less potent than the viral form, but still potentially fatal if not treated.
Officials said there is little risk to the general campus population, but they were looking for anyone who may have been in close contact with the student, including his fraternity brothers.
“Students who have had direct contact with him have been given . an antibiotic in a preventive measure against the infection,” said George Cathcart, director of university relations at the campus.
“We don’t believe that there is reason to be concerned at this time except for those that have had direct contact with him. We’re doing whatever we can do alert the campus,” Cathcart said.
Dr. Margaret Bridwell, director of the University Health Center, said there has not been a case of meningitis on campus “in about four years.” She said the student came to the University Health Center on Monday with a fever and a rash and that, “Apparently he got worse at some point during the night and his roommates took him to the hospital.”
Symptoms of the disease include a temperature, headaches, flu-like symptoms, a feeling of stiffness when lowering the chin to the chest and a rash called petechiae, which consists of little red spots that can be found anywhere on the body. An infection can be fatal, but that varies depending on when it is diagnosed.
Dr. Sacared Bodison, clinical director of the campus health center, said that while it is potentially serious, bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, unlike viral meningitis, which is more difficult to treat.
“It [the infection] is serious. It’s an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord,” Bodison said.
She said that many people carry the bacterium that causes meningitis in their mouths without becoming ill. Meningitis cannot spread through casual contact, but can spread when people share items such as cigarettes, eating utensils or through kissing.
“We’re aware of the people that the student had close contact with him and we are in touch with them,” Bodison said. She said the campus health center offers vaccination against four of the five strains of meningitis throughout the year.
Prince George’s County Health Department spokeswoman Pat Sullivan would only say Tuesday that the county was assisting university health officials “in anything they need us to do.”
“People shouldn’t be panicked,” Bodison said. “We’re handling this in an organized fashion and we’re working closely with the P.G. County Health Department.”