What is bacterial meningitis? Illness kills Oklahoma State baseball recruit, family says

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A high school baseball player and recruit for the Oklahoma State Cowboys team suddenly died of bacterial meningitis, according to local media reports.

Nathan Rogalski was a Deer Creek High School baseball player, KOCO reported. He had committed to playing for OSU following his 2023 graduation.

“He was a special player,” Deer Creek baseball coach Roland Baza told the Oklahoman. “He touched a lot of people’s lives. I talked with our team and they’re hurting pretty bad now as well, and the thing is, everyone knows he was a great athlete and had a bright future ahead of him. A lot of people know about the competitor he was, but the biggest loss is the great teammate and friend that he was.”

Cowboy Baseball coach Josh Holliday shared that his team is heartbroken over Nathan’s death.

“Nate was a talented kid with a great personality — his excitement for life, his love for the game, and his personal talents made him a special young man, and we were excited about his future at Oklahoma State,” Holliday wrote.

What is bacterial meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that can cause death within a few hours as the brain and spinal cord swell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though most people infected with the illness will recover.

However, the CDC says those who do recover can face permanent disabilities, including brain damage, loss of hearing and learning disabilities.

The illness can be caused by several types of bacteria, experts say. Most of the germs that can lead to meningitis spread from person to person — such as through kissing, coughing or not washing hands after using the restroom — though some can also spread through food.

Experts say the first signs of bacterial meningitis include the “sudden onset” of a fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and confusion.

A close friend of Nathan’s told KFOR that the teen first noticed an “unbearable headache” on his way to a baseball tournament on Jan. 19.

“He just felt like his head was going to pop,” Cade Covalt told the Oklahoma TV station. “So, he tried to sleep but he couldn’t sleep. He got super cold in the night. He came home and started throwing up blood. It was not good.”

He was hospitalized and died a few days later on Sunday, Jan. 23, according to the university’s student newspaper The O’Colly.

Treatment of bacterial meningitis includes various antibiotics, the CDC says, and “it is important to start treatment as soon as possible.”

Infected persons “can have seizures, go into a coma, and even die” even with treatment, according to the CDC.

Vaccines that protect against bacteria known to cause meningitis are recommended by the CDC as “the most effective way” to prevent the infection.

The two meningococcal vaccines available in the U.S. are a Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) and a Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccine. The MenACWY helps protect against four strains of meningococcal bacteria, while MenB protects against a fifth strain.

Experts say kids 11 to 12 years old should get a MenACWY vaccine with a booster dose at 16 years old. Teens and young adults age 16 through 23 may also get a MenB vaccine.

Nathan had been vaccinated against the disease, his mom told KFOR, though which vaccine he was given was not made available.

“Like with any vaccine, these vaccines do not work 100% of the time,” the CDC says. “The vaccines also do not protect against infections from all the types (strains) of each of these bacteria. For these reasons, there is still a chance vaccinated people can develop bacterial meningitis.”

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