A film professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) who died Monday may have died due to pneumococcal meningitis, according to a school news release Tuesday.

Dr. Hannah Frank joined the faculty in 2016. UNCW officials say “Hannah’s death was sudden, and her family has shared that it may have been caused by pneumococcal meningitis.”


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.

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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UNCW officials say they conferred with the New Hanover County Health Department and wanted to assure the university community that this strain of meningitis is considered non-contagious and that no protection of those contacts of someone diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis is necessary unless there is an outbreak. We have received no notification from local authorities that there is a public health concern at this time.


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