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At least 47 people believed to have had close contact with St. Helens High student; 30 people, including members of the wrestling team, receive antibiotic as precaution

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - A student at St. Helens High School died early Monday, Oct. 21. Health authorities suspect bacterial meningitis as the cause of death. An investigation is underway.

A sample from the St. Helens High School sophomore who is suspected of dying earlier this week after contracting bacterial meningitis is being sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional analysis.

"The Oregon Health Authority has decided to send the sample to the CDC for further investigation. Determination could take several more days to a few weeks. Columbia County's investigation continues for at least ten days after the last possible date of transmission," notes a Thursday, Oct. 24, media release from Columbia County.

The release notes that the student, earlier identified as Paul Lewis, 16, died Oct. 21 and that any new cases of bacterial meningitis would be suspected to show up before Thursday, Oct. 31. Typically, however, most cases occur within four days of exposure, the release notes.

Columbia County Public Health had determined that 47 people had sufficiently close contact with Lewis to potentially contract bacterial meningitis and at least 30 people have received the antibiotic Cipro as a preventive measure, the release states. The county's public health agency continues to explore whether others have had contact with the student.

Lewis was member of the school's wrestling team, and all members of the wrestling team received the antibiotic. No new cases of suspected bacterial meningitis are suspected.

On Monday afternoon, Oct. 21, the St. Helens School District had released a statement announcing the death of Lewis.

"The loss of someone so young is a tragedy for all of us, and healing will require time and effort," the district's announcement read. "To that end, today we have provided students and staff with trained mental health professionals and space to process their emotional needs. We're counting on our staff, parents, and community to help support our students and each other."

Bacterial meningitis spreads from close personal contact "when there is direct contact with mucus from an infected person's nose or throat," the press release explained.

Most people recover from meningitis, but it can cause permanent brain damage or death in just a few hours, according to the federal CDC.

The infection can be spread by carriers who never exhibit symptoms.

Treatment is often effective, particularly when administered quickly after symptoms first appear.

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

"Symptoms can appear two to 10 days after exposure, but usually occur within three to four days," the county stated.

There are multiple types of meningitis, which all cause inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord.

Questions should be directed to Columbia County Public Health at 503-397-7247.

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