Last week, a young college student was mourned after succumbing to a virulent form of bacterial meningitis. Emily Stillwell was 19, a sophomore at Kalamazoo college, and hailed from West Bloomfield. She developed a bad headache and fever and her roommates understood this was no ordinary illness. They helped her get to the hospital quickly but despite this, Emily’s illness was too severe and like many other young people who get bacterial meningitis, she died.
Exactly which bacteria caused Emily’s meningitis hasn’t been reported in the media thus far, but given the rapid progression and virulent nature of her illness, it almost certainly was caused by Neisseria meningitidis. This bacteria has six subtypes that can cause meningitis and blood infections, and there is a vaccine which provides protection against four of the six strains. The vaccine is required at age 11 and recommended again as a booster between ages 16 and 18 before going off to college.
It’s not known if Emily was vaccinated or if the bacteria she was infected with was one a vaccine could have prevented. To be on the safe side, 120 students Emily may have had contact with were put on antibiotics to prevent infection.
As parents, all we can hope is to send our children off to college with an arsenal of life skills, an unlimited data plan for their smartphone, a really sturdy laptop and a updated set of vaccines to protect them as best possible against meningitis, HPV, whooping cough, and hepatitis. We can’t guarantee that they will be protected, but it’s the best we can do as parents to prepare them for life on their own.