Cypress Hall

An autopsy of the LSU freshman found dead in her residential hall last month showed she died of acute viral meningitis.

LSU freshman Marakah Dennis was found dead in Cypress Hall on Sept. 17. The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office has ruled she died of acute viral meningitis after a completed toxicology report. The body showed no signs of trauma or physical injuries, according to East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark.

Dennis, originally from the Washington D.C.-Maryland area, was 18 when she died.

According to Nelson Perret, medical director of the Student Health Center, viral meningitis is a rare infection that has a multitude of possible causes.

“It’s not common, but viral meningitis can be caused by any number of viruses,” Perret said. “Most of the time, viral meningitis can be caused by viruses that are around us all the time.”

Perret recalled two cases of University students contracting viral meningitis over the last five years.

Viral meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the lining of the brain and spinal cord and is the most common form of meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perret said average symptoms of viral meningitis include severe headaches, stiff neck and fever.

“Headache, stiff neck and fever almost always get tested for meningitis,” Perret said. “If you have those, there’s a good chance you are going to get a spinal tap to test for meningitis.”

There are six main types of meningitis, according to the CDC: bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, amebic and non-infectious. While all forms of meningitis present similar symptoms, doctors must determine the specific cause of the disease in order to treat it.

Most people don’t know they have viral meningitis, and they can usually recover without treatment. Viral meningitis is fatal only in severe cases, according to Perret.

Because Dennis contracted viral meningitis, neither the meningococcal ACWY vaccine nor the meningococcal B vaccine would have prevented it, according to CDC Health Communication Specialist Kristen Nordlund.

In 2006, Louisiana law began requiring post-secondary education students to obtain a meningococcal meningitis vaccination, which would protect against a form of bacterial meningitis, in order to enroll at any public or private Louisiana university. At the University, students must receive the meningococcal ACWY vaccine, which satisfies the state requirement.

A meningococcal B vaccine has been developed since 2006 and covers a strain of bacterial meningitis the ACWY vaccine does not. However, this vaccine is not required for incoming freshmen at the University because the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a committee within the CDC, deemed it unnecessary.

Perret said the Student Health Center recommends students receive the meningococcal B vaccine for increased protection.

“They do consider college students, particularly students who live in dorms, as a high risk group,” Perret said. “Would we recommend meningococcal B for students living in dorms? I would.”

According to the CDC, outbreaks of serogroup B meningococcal disease are increasing on college campuses. The CDC urges college freshmen to receive the meningococcal B vaccine.

The Student Health Center offers the meningitis B vaccine on campus, as well as several other vaccines. The Injection Clinic at the Student Health Center operates from 8:30-11 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. from Mondays through Thursdays and from 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Fridays.

However, Perret encouraged students to go off campus to receive the vaccine due to the high cost.

“I had a nurse with a student on campus check the prices of the meningitis B vaccine, and the insurance would cover only 60% of the cost,” Perret said. “It gets to be a cost issue, what we tell people is to go see your primary care who is in network with your insurance and get the shot there.”

Dennis’ death shocked the University community. Almost immediately after the news about her death was announced on Sept. 17, freshman Teejay Polk organized a community vigil in her honor later that night.

Polk didn’t know Dennis personally, but wanted to honor her life in some way. Many students were moved by the number of people in attendance on such short notice, but Polk said he was more focused on spreading a message of love throughout campus.

“It wasn’t about the number of people that came out. It was simply that I wanted people to know [and] encounter Jesus,” Polk said. “Even though people may be heartbroken or saddened by this issue, we serve a God who loves us, who gives us peace and understanding. That was my only goal for tonight.”

Mechanical engineering freshman Garrick Francis II, who went to high school with Dennis, heard about the prayer vigil through social media and attended to honor her.

“It’s a great tribute to her,” Francis said. “I think it’s something that she would want, to see people come together.”

Two other University students died within two weeks of Dennis’ death.

Freshman Gilgamesh “Gil” Homan died on Sept. 17 after a Sept. 15 skateboarding accident that fractured the back of his skull.

Homan was placed on life support for two days while recipients for his organs were found, according to a Facebook post created by Homan’s father.

Homan’s family created the Gilgamesh Homan Memorial Scholarship Fund in his honor, which will provide financial assistance to a graduate of Lusher High School, Homan’s alma mater, who attends Xavier University of Louisiana for their freshman year, according to Homan’s father’s Facebook post.

Computer science and engineering graduate student Firoz-Ul-Amin was shot and killed in a robbery of a Baton Rouge gas station on Sept. 7.

The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office arrested Antonio D. Watts, 22, on charges of first-degree murder, illegal use of a weapon and possession of a weapon following Firoz-Ul-Amin’s murder.

Firoz-Ul-Amin planned to return home to Bangladesh in December to marry his fiancee, Nazmin Sultana Smrity. They planned to return to Louisiana after their wedding for Smrity to pursue a master’s degree in library science at the University.

LSU Student Government organized a vigil titled “An Evening of Remembrance and Reflection” on Sept. 18 to honor all three students who died. The event, held in the Greek Amphitheater, featured speeches from several University officials, including President F. King Alexander, and a candlelight reflection. Approximately 150 people were in attendance.

“Three students have already died in the month of September, and I haven’t even taken my first exam,” construction management sophomore Isaiah Imanuel Carter said at the vigil. “This honestly hit home more than any exam I’ll ever take.”

Residential Life was unable to assist The Reveille with this story due to privacy concerns.

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