An employee in Cal Poly’s administration has been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, but San Luis Obispo County’s public health officer doesn’t believe the illness has spread to others on campus.
County health officer Penny Borenstein said the Cal Poly employee is in stable condition, conscious and talking, but still hospitalized.
Bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening infection that requires immediate medical attention.
The patient showed symptoms that included a sore throat and headache, progressing to neck pain and a rash.
“The person was not really sick before going to the hospital,” Borenstein said. “We learned about the case through required reporting through the hospital and lab.”
Borenstein said the illness is spread through direct contact and close proximity to the person who is sick. Coughing and sneezing can transmit the infection, but “none of that was happening with the individual at the workplace” or any friends or family, Borenstein said.
“We’ve talked to everyone who was in close proximity to the person and nobody has shown symptoms,” Borenstein said.
County health officials informed Cal Poly on Tuesday afternoon of the diagnosis of the employee’s bacterial meningitis. The CDC says symptoms of bacterial meningitis usually appear within three to seven days of exposure. It is treated with antibiotics.
“It’s fairly obvious in the initial days of the illness whether the person will bounce back quickly,” Borenstein said. “Fatality usually happens within days. If a person is awake, alert and doing well within the first 72 to 96 hours of treatment, they’ll probably be okay.”
Most people recover, but bacterial meningitis can cause serious health problems, including hearing loss, brain damage, and learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, 4,100 cases occurred between 2003 and 2007, resulting in 500 deaths.
Borenstein said it is unknown how the Cal Poly employee contracted the illness, but some people who are asymptomatic can carry and spread meningitis. In addition to the sore throat, neck pain and rash the employee suffered, symptoms of bacterial meningitis can include nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and mental confusion.