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Meningitis wasn't contagious

A bacterial form of the disease that is unusual in teenagers took the life of Medford girl

Bacterial meningitis took the life of a 16-year-old Medford girl Tuesday, less than three weeks after she contracted the disease. But county health officials say it was not a contagious strain and poses no threat to others.

North Medford High School sophomore Amanda Lynn Sturgeon died at Providence Medford Medical Center, said the girl's mother, Cindy Peters.

Amanda's symptoms began about two and a half weeks ago, Peters said.

I took her to Rogue Valley Medical Center and they said that her white blood cell count was high, Peters said in a tearful phone interview Wednesday. But they thought it was flu.

She said that her daughter seemed better on the day after her hospital visit, but that her health deteriorated rapidly after that.

Wednesday (Aug. 21) she started getting sick with a headache, she said. Friday she started getting incoherent, and she had swelling on her forehead and around her eyes.

Amanda's mother said they rushed her to the emergency room at Providence, where doctors performed a spinal tap and determined the girl had meningitis.

She died yesterday morning about 1:30, Peters said Wednesday.

Peters said that doctors decided her daughter's case was bacterial, rather than viral ' which means she was not contagious.

They said it was probably from a sinus infection and it went up to her brain, she said. They just said that they wish they could have caught it earlier.

Officials at RVMC declined to comment on Amanda's hospital visit because of privacy laws regarding minors.

Paul Lewis, a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said he could not comment on Amanda's case.

It turns out that the timing of the treatment with antibiotics is probably not a major factor in the long-term outcome, said Lewis.

The patients who have bad outcomes often have bad outcomes even if they are diagnosed promptly.

Lewis said the disease usually develops in three stages, beginning with a common bacteria introduced through the nose. It's very rare, he said, for the bacteria to pass into the bloodstream ' and thus to stage two ' in a person Amanda's age.

Meningitis isn't a common disease in 16-year-olds, he said, explaining that the ailment strikes mostly younger children who still lack the immune systems to fight it off.

Once the disease hits the bloodstream, it can progress from there to the meninges ' or the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, said Lewis.

Jackson County public health officials confirmed that Amanda's infection was not contagious.

It's not a public health threat, said Yvonne Chilcoat, of the county's communicable disease control program. They were looking at a type of bacterium.

Chilcoat said the most virulent forms of meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis ' also called meningococcal meningitis ' and Haemophilus influenzae.

That's not flu, she hastened to add. It's what we give the young children hip vaccines for.

Chilcoat said there have been two reported cases of Neisseria meningitidis in Jackson County this year and six cases of Haemophilus flu meningitis ' none of which proved fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors such cases, which are fatal 10 to 15 percent of the time.

According to the CDC Web site, common symptoms include high fever, headache and stiff neck and can set in over several hours or within one to two days.

Amanda's case, however, was not one of the diseases that are required by law to be reported, Chilcoat said.

People need to understand that there are many, many types of organisms that cause meningitis.

Amanda, who lived in the Rogue Valley most of her life, will be remembered by her family as someone who liked to spend time with her family and friends, and draw and do poetry, said her mother.

A youth service will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. today at 819 W. 14th St. in Medford. The memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 7 at Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church in Central Point. Friends may pay their respects from — to 5 p.m. on Sunday at Conger-Morris Funeral Directors in Medford.

Reach reporter Christian Bringhurst at 776-4459.