Bacterial meningitis suspected in death of St. Helens student


Officials awaiting lab tests to confirm suspicions

ST. HELENS, Ore. (KOIN) — A 16-year-old sophomore wrestler at St. Helens High School died Monday after contracting what’s believed to be bacterial meningitis.

The school district identified the teen as Paul Lewis.

“We understand that the student was active in the days preceding the illness and that he was involved in school activities and at school,” said Michael Paul, the Columbia County Public Health administrator.

The public health department is working closely with the school to identify “individuals who were significantly exposed,” he said. “If they were significantly exposed we’re working on getting them to get medical attention” to protect themselves, their family and the community.

Lewis developed symptoms Sunday morning, went to the emergency room with symptoms that escalated and died Monday morning, he told KOIN 6 News.

Sudden symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, skin rashes, confusion or irritability.

Oregon Health Authority: Information on meningitis

People can get infected with bacterial meningitis by being in extremely close contact with someone else, Paul said.

“Individuals are infected with the disease when they come in close contact with the mucus of an infected individual,” he said, including through sneezes or coughs. The disease can also be spread by sharing utensils, drinking cups or very close face-to-face contact.

“At this time, we have no information that anyone else has developed signs or symptoms of the disease,” Paul said.

Antibiotics are very effective in treating it, he said.

In this case they’re still waiting for lab tests to confirm it was bacterial meningitis. Paul said it’s “very difficult to determine the source of the infection because the bacteria can live in people that don’t always develop symptoms.”

CDC information: Bacterial meningitis

The teen’s death touched everyone in the community. The St. Helens school district has mental health professionals available for the students and staff to deal with this sudden and tragic loss.

Gretchen Robinson, whose son is a 16-year-old junior, said she talked with her son about the signs of bacterial meningitis and what to look for.

“It’s very quick acting. It is really important to know the signs,” she said.

She also feels for the Lewis family.

“It must be tragic for the family,” Robinson told KOIN 6 News. “Our hearts are with you and our prayers are with you.”

Anyone with questions can call the Columbia County Public Health Department at 503.397.7247.

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