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Autopsy inconclusive on meningococcemia; lab results pending

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EUGENE, Ore. - An autopsy didn't find enough physical evidence to confirm or rule out meningococcemia in the death of a University of Oregon freshman, public health officials said Wednesday.

Lauren Jones, 18, died Tuesday. She was a member of the acrobatics and tumbling team, the UO said.

Public health officials are keen to know what caused a young athlete to die.

Since January, three students have been diagnosed with an infectious and potentially deadly bacterial infection known as meningococcemia.

The cases led to hundreds of students taking preventative antibiotics just in case.

The autopsy on Jones didn't find any of the tell-tale physical symptoms of meningococcemia, so officials are waiting on lab results. Those results could take days to come back.

The autopsy on Jones didn't find any of the tell-tale physical symptoms of meningococcemia, so officials are waiting on lab results. Those results could take days to come back.

"We are awaiting the results of the test as to whether this is meningitis or meningococcemia or whether this is any kind of communicable disease," Davis said. "Given the proximity and timeliness of this case to the other cases of meningococcemia we've had recently, it is a possibility, certainly, but we have no confirmation."

Right now, Public Health is bracing for the possibility that the labs could come back positive for the bacterial infection.

"If it does, our concern would be the entire campus. How do we prevent the spread of this? How do we prevent anyone else from getting sick?" Davis said. "Even if this does turn out to be a 4th case, we're still dealing with a communicable disease that spreads very slowly in comparison with other diseases. This is not going to be something that sweeps over campus in a matter of days. This is going to be a slow burn."

Public health response

Tests have produced a DNA "fingerprint" of the bacteria in the first case reported in January , said Jason Davis with Lane County Public Health.

Tests aren't back yet on the second and third cases, but investigators have established a "social" connection between the patients, he said.

If infectious disease investigators connect three cases, the government will ask everyone on campus to take preventative medications to halt any further spread of the bacteria, Davis said.

"In terms of the rest of the students, the panic level doesn't need to be on 'Amber Alert; at this point. People need to be concerned and they need to do what's right for their own healthcare," Davis said. "Don't leave your Kleenexes or anything you've coughed on lying around. Put it in a waste paper basket or receptacle as soon as possible. Cough into your shoulder or elbow, and again: Just wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands."

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