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Joplin Student Dies of Meningitis

A Missouri Southern State University student died in Joplin Saturday night. An autopsy has revealed he died from a bacterial infection. KSMU's Megan Keathley has more.

You can get it from taking a sip of your roommate's drink, a drag on your buddy's cigarette, or trying on your best friend's lipstick. Like many diseases, you can carry it without getting sick, but it killed a 20-year-old Joplin man this past weekend. It's bacterial meningitis, a rare but fatal infection which induces swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

Danny Sickles was an accounting major and pitcher for the Missouri Southern Lions. He had been fighting off what he thought was the flu for about a week, when his roommates arrived home Saturday night to find him unresponsive in his bed. Though the meningitis-related death was in Joplin, Springfield health officials are paying attention.

Burnie Snodgrass is the director of services at Taylor Health and Wellness Center at Missouri State University. He says that for people with meningitis, assuming they're just sick with influenza and staying at home is a dangerous mistake. He says if an infected person waits too long to get to a hospital, there's little that can be done.

Missouri law requires that all public university students planning on living in on-campus housing must either receive the meningitis vaccine or sign a waiver saying they understand the risks if they don't. As rare as meningitis continues to be, there are risks for college students: Those who are most susceptible are people with weakened immune systems. It's important to remember that a lack of sleep, sharing eating & drinking utensils, and living and working with large groups of people can compromise the immune system, making you more vulnerable to meningitis and other diseases. Getting vaccinated and continuing disease-prevention practices are the most effective ways of protecting yourself against meningitis.

Out of the 2 to 3,000 people who contract meningitis each year, only 1 in 10 cases are fatal.