Originally created 02/19/03

ASU student dies of rare blood infection



A rare infection, caused by the same bacterium that causes meningitis, claimed the life of an Augusta State University student early Tuesday.

Casey Bentley, a 20-year-old biology major, died at University Hospital, where she was admitted Saturday.

"On behalf of the university, we send our condolences out to the family of Casey Bentley," Augusta State dean of students, Joyce Jones, said in a statement.

Dr. Jones said that on Monday morning, the university was notified about Ms. Bentley's illness by officials at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, where she had visited. The illness was first reported as bacterial meningitis.

Jack Austin, the chief of medicine and an infectious-disease physician at University Hospital, said Ms. Bentley was diagnosed with a blood infection, known as meningococcemia with sepsis, from the same bacterium that causes meningitis.

"It simply invaded her body and took over, but there is absolutely no public health hazard at all," Dr. Austin said.

The bacterium that causes bacterial meningitis, which affects the brain and spinal cord, might be found in the nose and throat but without making the person sick. In rare cases, such as Ms. Bentley's, something makes it become more aggressive and enter the bloodstream, where it can cause an overwhelming blood infection that can send the body into shock.

Family members described Ms. Bentley as a vibrant woman known for her laughter and bright smile.

"She was studying to be a pediatric nurse because she loved children," a family member said.

Augusta State officials were notifying students who might have come into close contact with Ms. Bentley. However, Jane Oglesby, the facility administrator for the Richmond County Health Department, said the bacteria are not easily transmitted by casual contacts in the classrooms, cafeteria or restrooms.

People who came in contact with Ms. Bentley in the week before her death are being urged to see their physicians.

The rosary will be said at 7 p.m. today at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. The funeral is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday at the church. Thomas Poteet and Son Funeral Home on Davis Road is in charge of arrangements.

Staff Writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552, or ashlee.griggs@augustachronicle.com.