Coping with bacterial meningitis

Wednesday, July 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A Green Country family is coping with the sudden death of their 11-year-old daughter.

Jessica Lewandowski's parents thought she had a simple ear infection. By the time her symptoms were serious enough to take her to the hospital. It was too late. News on Six medical reporter Tami Marler spoke with Jessie's father Wednesday, she joins us with more.

Bacterial meningitis took over Jessie Lewandowski so quickly; doctors say her family could have camped out at the hospital, even that wouldn't have saved her. She was the kind of daughter you wish for, bright, vivacious and generous. Jessie camped out with fellow girl scouts just weeks ago, and then went on family vacation in California. That's where she complained of respiratory symptoms.

She was taken to the hospital, confused and disoriented. After three days, she was brain dead, and her family was forced to let her go. "Some cases progress very rapidly; I think the appropriate term is 'fulminating disease' and you only have a matter of hours in order to diagnose and get this under control."

Janice Sheehan of the Tulsa City County Health Department says 6 in 100,000 people will contract some form of bacterial meningitis, which is more severe than the viral form. The survival rate is as high as 95% with proper diagnosis. "And then find out which antibiotics that this particular meningitis is susceptible to and then get them on the antibiotics." The problem is, meningitis often starts off like it did with Jessica, who showed signs of an ordinary middle ear infection.

The doctor prescribed appropriate antibiotics, but unfortunately not appropriate for meningitis. "Like a lot of other illnesses it has some of the same, starts out with some of the same symptoms - fever, but one of the things that's indicative for this, you have a sudden onset of a severe headache." Sheehan says the patient may also have fever, fatigue, and vomiting and neck pain.

As a precaution, Jessica's Joplin Girl Scout camp sent all the children home, but no one knows where the bacteria came from, and CDC testing suggests Jessie's form of meningitis was not highly contagious. But somewhere it caught up with a little girl with a future full of promise, and left a hole in the family who treasured her. The Tulsa Health Department has a vaccine that protects against meningitis. It's especially recommended for college students and others who live in close quarters.

And there's a test you can do at home to see if your child's headache is something serious. If your child has trouble moving his head backward and forward - you should go immediately to the hospital.