USF Mourns Loss of Student in Suspected Case of Bacterial Meningitis
Students, faculty, and staff at the University of South Florida's Tampa campus are mourning the death of a female student from a suspected case of bacterial meningitis. Officials at USF were notified late this morning that 19-year old Rachel Futterman had passed away. Since doctors first suspected the disease on Saturday, students who may have had direct contact with the victim have been identified, located, and treated with a strong antibiotic, Cipro. In addition, a shipment of the vaccine is available for long-term protection of students who have not been vaccinated.
A memorial service will be held at 6:00 p.m. tonight at the Martin Luther King Plaza, behind the administration building on the Tampa campus.
"Rachel was our student and part of our family," said Judy Genshaft, president of USF. "It has been an emotional weekend, and our hearts and prayers go out to her family and friends. We'll do everything we can to provide counseling and support services to those who need them."
Ms. Futterman was living in a sorority house on campus, and according to her friends, was not feeling well on Friday. Sorority sisters took care of her throughout the day. On Saturday morning they became alarmed and rushed her to the hospital, where doctors made the diagnosis of possible bacterial meningitis late in the morning. By evening, USF and Hillsborough County health officials had identified and treated most of the students who possibly had direct contact with Ms. Futterman during the time she was likely to be contagious--about 24 hours before the appearance of symptoms.
Bacterial meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal infection, and it is not easy to transmit. It can be transmitted through a droplet from sneezing or coughing that comes in direct contact with another person, but it is mostly spread through intimate contact such as sharing cigarettes and drinking glasses, or kissing. There must be contact with bodily fluids such as saliva. The bacteria dies very quickly on surfaces outside the body. You would not be considered in danger just by being in the same room as someone who is contagious--there would have to be direct contact. For this reason, students in Ms. Futterman's classes are not believed to be in danger of developing the disease.
Ms. Futterman did not attend classes during the period she was likely to be contagious, according to Egilda Terenzi, M.D., director of USF's Student Health Service. As an extra precaution, however, administration officials identified students in some of her classes and sent an email to the students and faculty to alert them that they should be alert to any symptoms consistent with bacterial meningitis. On Sunday, direct phone calls were made to more than 200 students.
Saturday night, an email alert was sent to all students, faculty, and staff at USF to alert them to the situation, to offer information about the disease, and to offer a phone number and the hours that the Student Health Center would be open on Sunday.
"Our first reaction to the diagnosis on Saturday was sadness for the student and her family," said Dr. Jennifer Meningall, vice president of Student Affairs. "We were concerned that members of her sorority were okay, both mentally and physically. At the same time, we had to gather all the information we could, identify students who might have had direct contact with the victim, and go the extra mile to alert everyone on campus. Given the size of the university, very few people would have potentially had direct contact, but we felt everyone needed to know so they could take the precautions they believe necessary."
Members of the sorority were instrumental in helping to identify students who potentially had direct contact during the day or two leading up to the outbreak of symptoms. Dr. Terenzi and Warren McDougle of the Hillsborough County Health Department were stationed at the sorority Saturday afternoon, giving Cipro to students who knew Ms. Futterman. On Sunday, Dr. Terenzi was stationed at the Student Health Center, giving Cipro to students who believed they might have been in contact with the victim.
Students who live in residence halls at USF are required to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis unless the student signs a waiver. By Monday morning, 200 new doses of the vaccine were expected to arrive on campus for students who have not previously been immunized but will change their minds given this recent event. The cost of the vaccination is $90 (USF charges only for the medicine's cost). Students may contact the Student Health Center if they want the vaccination.
"Cipro--the pill we gave to students over the weekend--is for people who may have had direct contact with someone with bacterial meningitis," said Dr. Terenzi. "The vaccination is a drug called Menactra. It's for long-term protection."
When someone develops bacterial meningitis symptoms, it's virtually impossible to trace the source of the disease.