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Infection-Risk Alert Follows Student Death

Anyone who had recent close contact with the USC freshman from Dana Point should be treated immediately: It could be meningitis.

November 12, 2002|Stuart Silverstein and Phil Willon | Times Staff Writers

After the death Saturday of a USC freshman from what may be bacterial meningitis, university officials are urging anyone who has had close physical contact with the Orange County student over the last 10 days to immediately seek treatment with antibiotics.

There is "presumptive" evidence that Jered John Connon, 18, of Dana Point was infected with bacterial meningitis when he died at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center, according to public health officials in Orange County and at USC. Tests to confirm the diagnosis are pending, said Penny Weismuller, manager of the county's disease control and epidemiology division.

As a precaution, USC officials on Monday urged students who had close contact with Connon to go to the campus health center for treatment.

Connon's family, health-care professionals at the Mission Viejo hospital and others who had close contact with the young man have been given antibiotics as a precaution. No one else at the hospital is considered at risk, Weismuller said.

"There's not a public health concern," Weismuller said. "We don't want to overreact here. All the appropriate measures have been taken. This is a tragedy ... and we don't want to compound it for the family."

While contagious, meningitis is rarely transmitted by casual contact. The bacteria can be spread though the exchange of respiratory or throat secretions -- including the sharing of eating utensils, according to county and federal health officials.

Dr. William Leavitt, an internist at the USC Student Health Service, said the vast majority of people exposed to meningococcal disease become carriers only and do not suffer the flulike symptoms.

Symptoms may include a fever exceeding 101 degrees, severe headache, neck and back stiffness, nausea, lethargy, vomiting and a rash resembling bruises in areas such as the armpits, groin and ankles. The disease has an incubation period of up to 10 days.

In Orange County, an average of 42 cases of bacterial meningitis cases were reported each year from 1996 to 2000.

In 2000, 45 cases were reported -- about five cases for every 100,000 people in the county -- and four people died, health records show.

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