San Diego State student with meningitis dies; hundreds being contacted as precaution

SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- An 18-year-old San Diego State University student diagnosed with meningitis died Friday, leaving university officials scrambling to notify up to 400 people with whom she may have come in contact.

"Initially, we were thinking it was just a small group of people, but now we're in the range of estimates of 300-400 people that we're notifying," said Dr. Gregg Lichtenstein, director of SDSU student health services and clinical services.

"We've sent out a campuswide notification that all members of the Kappa Delta Sorority and those who attended certain fraternity parties on October 8 and 9 should receive preventive medication."

University officials say Sara Stelzer, a freshman studying pre-communications and a member of the sorority, was admitted to a local hospital Tuesday morning with flu-like symptoms.

"It is always difficult when a young life is lost, especially when that person is part of our SDSU family," Eric Rivera, vice president for student affairs, said in a statement about Stelzer's passing.

"We will do all we can to support Sara's family and our campus community during this difficult time," Rivera said. "We know our students will come together to support one another but also want them to know that counseling services are available."

Meningococcal meningitis is a severe infection of the brain and spinal cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms usually appear three to seven days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.

It can be treated with antibiotics but receiving treatment quickly is key.

Lichtenstein emphasize the bacteria is not easily transmitted, particularly through the air.

"This is what we call a droplet infection so that means that people have to have close contact with respiratory secretions," he emphasized. "So were talking about situations where they're sharing things like glasses, eating utensils, cigarettes or pipes, water bottles and obviously oral contact with kissing."

The county health agency is working with SDSU to identify students who might have been exposed.

"While meningococcal disease can be serious and deadly, it is not spread through casual contact. Therefore, the risk to those who were not in close, direct contact is minimal." Dr. Wilma Wooten, country public health officer said.

Lichtenstein has this advice for students who may have had contact with Stelzer.

"If somebody has symptoms suggesting meningitis, don't go to student health services," he said. "Don't go to their doctor's, don't go to an urgent care center. They need to go directly to a hospital ER department for evaluation."