Drexel mourns death of student, takes infectious disease precautions

Last week, the Drexel community mourned the loss of College of Engineering and Pennoni Honors College student Stephanie Ross, who died Monday at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Messages from Drexel leaders to the community expressed condolences for her loss, and the thoughts and prayers of the University community continue to go out to Stephanie’s family and friends.

In addition, Stephanie’s tragic death prompted a rapid public-health response by Drexel and the Philadelphia Department of Health. Officials treated her death as a suspected case of meningitis, and later in the week the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that the cause of her death was meningococcemia, a severe bloodstream infection. All week, Drexel and the Department of Health focused on ensuring that the infection would be an isolated incident.

A message to the Drexel community from President John Fry on Tuesday expressed sadness at the tragic loss and also notified the community about precautions being taken to prevent additional infections. The University sought out those in close contact with Stephanie to provide prophylactic antibiotics, working closely with the Department of Public Health. Anyone in close contact was advised to contact the Student Health Center immediately. Fry also notified the community about services available from the Drexel Counseling Center and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life for those in need of support during this sad and difficult time.

On Wednesday, student health officials notified students, faculty and professional staff that a meningococcal infection had been confirmed in Stephanie’s death, after her family had been notified.

“We are focused on making sure this remains an isolated incident, by educating students and making them aware of precautions they can take to protect themselves against the infection,” wrote Leslie Everts, MD, director of the Student Health Center, and Annette Molyneux, PhD, associate dean for counseling and health.

Their message further encouraged anyone in close contact with Stephanie to be screened and treated.

Meningitis, a rare bacterial infection, is usually transmitted through close personal contact: coughing, sharing drinks, kissing or sharing close proximity for an extended period. Early symptoms include fever, severe headache, sensitivity to bright light, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rash and lethargy. Treatment involves a single dose of antibiotics, highly effective in preventing the disease and causing few or no side effects. More information on meningococcal infection and this treatment is available on the Student Health Center website.

Another message, from Dean of Students David A. Ruth, PhD, urged students to be safe if taking part in activities involving alcohol over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Tips included to avoid sharing drinks, use a buddy system and to remember the Responsible Dragon protocol in the event that a friend, or even a stranger, needs medical assistance.

For more information on safety, students can visit the CHOICES Center website. Students are also encouraged to keep the Drexel Public Safety contact information saved on their cellphones.

Drexel continues to mourn Stephanie’s death, and it continues to work to ensure the safety of its students.