Playing basketball at University of California, Berkley was alifelong dream of Alisa Lewis’.
A 2001 graduate of Gonzaga Prep high school, Lewis was recruitedto play as forward for Cal Berkley. That was one dream that shewould attain in her life, but the rest of her dreams were cut shortby a deadly virus that took her life at the age of 20.
Lewis died the morning of Jan. 19 after being rushed to theemergency room with a severe headache, flu-like symptoms and arash. Her life was tragically cut short by a deadly disease calledbacterial meningitis.
Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord andthe fluid that surrounds the brain, usually caused by an infectionfrom a virus or bacteria.
For diagnostic purposes, it is very important to know whethermeningitis is caused by a virus or bacteria. Viral meningitis is amore mild diagnosis and can be cleared up within a week or two byantibiotics.
Bacterial meningitis, sometimes called meningococcal meningitis,is the more serious of the two types. According to the NationalMeningitis Foundation, “in the United States about 3,000cases are reported each year and 10-15 percent will die and up to20 percent of the survivors suffer from brain damage, deafness,blindness and amputation of limbs.”
Bacterial meningitis is found all over the world.
Actually 5 percent of the population carries the bacteria intheir body, but they are not affected by it.
The bacterium lives in the saliva and mucus in the mouth andthroat.
It is spread by close personal contact with someone who isinfected. This includes sharing of water bottles, eating utensils,cigarettes and even kissing-anything that an infected persontouches with his or her mouth.
Meningitis begins when the bacteria breaks through the immunesystem and attacks the spinal cord and brain fluid.
It travels quickly through the body by entering the bloodstreamand attacking the immune system.
That is when the symptoms begin. These bacterium attack andcause the thin membrane around the brain and spinal cord to becomeinflamed and swollen and can quickly cause death.
Signs of bacterial meningitis include: severe headache, nauseaand vomiting, stiff neck [especially when moving chin to chest],fever and chills, seizures and a rash [in the very laststages].
These symptoms may appear anywhere from two to ten days afterexposure to the bacteria. Because these symptoms are so vague,meningitis is often very difficult to detect. It can be tested forby a spinal tap, chest X-ray or a CAT scan of the head.
Early detection of meningitis can be cured with treatment ofantibiotics. There is also a vaccination available, but is onlyrecommended for outbreaks or people traveling to highly infectedparts of the world, such as Africa. It is also strongly recommendedto all students who are entering college campuses. The vaccinationdoes have a rather short shelf life, but advances are being made tomake the vaccination last longer so it has more availability.
The vaccination can help prevent up to 80 percent of meningitiscases. It is safe and does help prevent against four of the fivetypes of bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis, and it lastsanywhere from three to five years.
As with any vaccination, it does have some mild side effectssuch as headache, tenderness and pain at the injection site.
Every year between five and 15 college students die frombacterial meningitis and anywhere from 100-125 cases are reportedon college campuses.
According to the Center for Disease Control, “collegefreshmen who live in dorms are six times more likely to be infectedwith the disease than the normal population.” This is becauseof the close living conditions; they are much more susceptible tothe disease.
In the last five years there have been no reported cases ofbacterial meningitis at Eastern or Whitworth.
There has been one reported case of bacterial meningitis atGonzaga.
None of the colleges in Spokane can require the immunization forcollege students, but it is highly recommended to all incomingfreshmen-especially those living in the dorms.
The vaccination is offered to Eastern students in the fall forabout $85 or $90. For more information about the vaccinationclinic, you can contact Student Health Services at 359-4279.
Although it is not clear how Lewis contracted bacterialmeningitis, antibiotics were given to protect the people she hadcome into close contact with.
It was not fortunate that she did not realize the signs andsymptoms of this deadly disease.
Maybe if she would have been aware and educated, then the riskcould have been lowered, and she could have survived.