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University Health Services at UT Austin notifies students of classmate’s death apparently caused by meningitis

Preliminary tests involving the death of a University of Texas at Austin student who lived in an off-campus apartment indicate he had bacterial meningitis, health department officials said today (Jan. 22).

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AUSTIN, Texas—Preliminary tests involving the death of a University of Texas at Austin student who lived in an off-campus apartment indicate he had bacterial meningitis, health department officials said today (Jan. 22).

Joseph Slade Blackstock, 21, arrived at Austin’s Brackenridge Hospital at 4 a.m., Tuesday, and died shortly afterward. Blackstock, a junior studying business at the university, lived at 1600 Wickersham Lane in Austin.

Jeanne Carpenter, director of University Health Services at The University of Texas at Austin, said her office Tuesday morning contacted students who attend classes with Blackstock on Thursdays to provide them with information about meningitis and offer other assistance, including medication, as needed.

Blackstock’s classmates were urged by the health officials to watch for symptoms and to seek immediate medical attention if needed because the disease spreads quickly through the body. Antibiotics were handed out to 154 students who attended class last Thursday with Blackstock. Later Tuesday afternoon, however, University Health Services officials learned it is unlikely Blackstock could have infected anyone in his Thursday classes because he has shown no symptoms of the disease until Monday.

Betty Vickers of the Austin /Travis County Health and Human Services Department said the infection meningococcal meningitis is an acute bacterial disease characterized by a sudden onset of fever, intense headache, nausea and often vomiting, stiff neck, and frequently, a rash. She said people who have reason to believe they have meningitis should seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms usually develop within 48-72 hours after initial exposure, but sometimes the symptoms do not show up for several days.

She said a spinal tap is used in the diagnosis and treatment is in the form of antibiotics.

The disease is transmitted when people exchange saliva, such as by kissing or by sharing drinking containers, utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, etc., or come in contact with respiratory or throat secretions, Spalding said.

Bob Flocke, public information officer for the Austin /Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said bacterial meningitis is always present in the Austin population, with about a dozen cases reported annually, especially during cold weather when people tend to stay indoors.If the preliminary tests are confirmed, Blackstock will be the first death this year in Travis County from bacterial meningitis. There were no deaths reported in 2001 but during the period 1998-2000, there were five meningitis deaths in Travis County, he said.

Information about bacterial meningitis may be viewed on the University Health Services Web site.

In response to student and parent concerns, University Health Services is providing a walk-in meningococcal vaccine clinic on Jan. 30 and 31 from 1-4 p.m. on the second floor of the Student Services Building. The cost for the vaccine is $65 for students with proper identification.

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