Illness claims life of student

Towson University junior, 20, dies of meningitis

Victim had been inoculated

Treatment urged for anyone who had contact with woman

January 13, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Towson University junior from Mount Airy, who had been inoculated against bacterial meningitis, died Thursday of the disease at Carroll County General Hospital, officials said yesterday.

Erica Norton, 20, had phoned her father, George Norton, Thursday morning from her off-campus residence near the university and complained of flu-like symptoms. He drove to Towson, picked up his daughter and took her to the family's primary care physician in Mount Airy, her uncle, Jim Norton, said yesterday.

The family had her taken by ambulance to the Westminster hospital early Thursday afternoon at the request of her doctor.

"She was at that point so ill that the doctor called an ambulance, which transported her here," said David Horn, vice president of hospital marketing and business development at Carroll County General Hospital.

Erica Norton was admitted at 2 p.m. She died about five hours later, after receiving intensive treatment, said Horn. "Preliminary lab results tested positive for bacterial meningitis," he said.

Test results were forwarded to the state Health Department, which is performing additional tests to isolate the specific strain of the disease, state and hospital officials said yesterday. Those results will be released next week.

Norton's uncle said she had been inoculated against meningitis. But Debbie Middleton, program supervisor for communicable diseases at the Carroll County Health Department, said "Vaccines are never 100 percent, plus we don't know what strain of the [disease] she had."

She said county Health Department workers spent all day yesterday making sure that people who had come into close contact with Erica Norton sought treatment from their physicians. The department plans to make sure the visits are made by confirming them with doctors.

Limited contacts

Sussana Craine, a spokeswoman for Towson University, said Norton had not been on campus since before Christmas, so students now on break do not have to be treated. Norton lived off campus with two roommates, who have been treated, Craine said.

"We're feeling lucky that the circumstances for contagion were pretty low for us," she said.

Meningitis is a contagious, potentially fatal disease that mainly affects children and young adults. Last week, a University of Maryland medical student was found to have bacterial meningitis and is being treated at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Bacterial meningitis is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected individual. The disease can be contracted through kissing, or by sharing a drink, cigarette or eating utensil. The bacteria infect the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord, and can cause serious blood infections.

Sudden onset

Symptoms, which often have a sudden onset, include high fever; nausea and vomiting; severe headache; stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and back; and a skin rash consisting of small, bright-red spots.

Erica Norton attended Towson University for three semesters after transferring from Carroll Community College, her uncle said. She graduated from South Carroll High School in 1998.

Last year, another Towson University student died after becoming infected with the disease. That death prompted the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill requiring state college students in on-campus dormitories to be vaccinated against the disease or sign a waiver declining the vaccine.

Sun staff writers Todd Richissin and Laura Lippman contributed to this article.

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