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College Student Dies Of Rare Bacterial Infection: What Is 'The Forgotten Disease'?

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It is not entirely clear how Lemierre's syndrome develops, but the bacteria responsible is known to be present in healthy people's throats. Other contributing factors may be the presence of pharyngitis and Epstein-Barr virus.  ( Pixabay )

A university is mourning the sudden passing of a student-athlete after she developed a rare bacterial illness that was initially believed to be tonsillitis.

What is “the forgotten disease”?

University In Mourning

In a statement, Kansas State University remembered the life of a 23-year-old, student-athlete Samantha Scott, who suddenly passed away due to a rare bacterial infection. Scott started feeling ill two weeks prior but thought it was just a result of tonsillitis. However, what she had was actually Lemierre syndrome or “the forgotten disease.” She died on Oct. 27.

An architectural engineering major, Scott was also a member of the rowing team and was described as a great leader and a great person. Her family has set up a GoFundMe page to cover the medical expenses and funeral costs, and they are also planning to set up a scholarship fund in Samantha's name at her alma mater.

‘The Forgotten Disease’

Although called the forgotten disease, Lemierre syndrome is far from being forgotten. It is a rare bacterial infection that is often caused by the bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum, and can be potentially life-threatening if left untreated. The illness can also be caused by other types of bacteria.

Often, the illness starts with a sore throat and fever, followed by a swelling of the internal jugular vein. Eventually, pus-containing tissue then moves from the original site to the other organs — often the lungs. About three to six weeks of prolonged intravenous antibiotics is needed to treat the condition. In some cases, wherein the patient does not respond to the antibiotics alone, he or she may need to get surgery of the internal jugular vein.

It is not entirely clear why the syndrome develops, but one theory suggests that the presence of Fusobacterium necrophorum in the throats of healthy people allowed the bacteria to invade the mucosa. Illnesses such as viral or bacterial pharyngitis and Epstein-Barr virus may also be involved, as they have been found in other patients.

Since the discovery of antibiotics, the mortality rate for Lemierre syndrome has significantly dropped from 90 percent to 5 - 10 percent.

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