Bacterial meningitis was reportedly suspected when Indian Valley High School freshman, Ryan Freeland died last week. Now the Tuscarawas County (OH) Health Department has confirmed Monday that a blood culture confirmed the presence of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Health officials say this is not confirmation of any specific person or cause of death ruling.

pneumococcus
Image/CDC

What is Streptococcus pneumoniae and pneumococcal meningitis?

Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, or pneumococcus, can cause many types of illnesses. Some of these illnesses can be life-threatening. Besides pneumonia, pneumococcus can cause other types of infections too, such as: Ear infections, Sinus infections, Meningitis (infection of the covering around the brain and spinal cord) and Bacteremia (blood stream infection), according to the CDC.

Some of these infections are considered “invasive.” Invasive disease means that germs invade parts of the body that are normally free from germs. For example, pneumococcal bacteria can invade the bloodstream, causing bacteremia, and the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis. When this happens, disease is usually very severe, requiring treatment in a hospital and even causing death in some cases.

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The CDC states: Pneumococci cause over 50% of all cases of bacterial meningitis in the United States. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis occur each year. Some patients with pneumococcal meningitis also have pneumonia. The clinical symptoms, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) profile, and neurologic complications are similar to other forms of purulent bacterial meningitis. Symptoms may include headache, lethargy, vomiting, irritability, fever, nuchal rigidity, cranial nerve signs, seizures, and coma. The case-fatality rate of pneumococcal meningitis is about 8% among children and 22% among adults. Neurologic sequelae are common among survivors. Persons with a cochlear implant appear to be at increased risk of pneumococcal meningitis.

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