Jennifer Ray Norris complained of a headache, upset stomach and drowsiness. After she woke up vomiting, she thought it was just the flu and went back to sleep. She never woke up again. Norris died in her sleep on Jan. 2 in Olivehurst. The same disease that claimed the life of 17-year-old Norris also claimed the lives of two others in Folsom, California. Robert Karle and Tanya Edsall also succumbed to meningitis. 18-year-old Karle died in January and 17-year-old Edsall died in February. Meningococcal infection or meningitis is a deadly disease that kills hundreds of people of all ages in America and thousands around the world each year. Getting medical attention quickly is very important when treating this deadly disease. Every year about 3,000 cases of meningococcal infection are reported in America, causing approximately 300 deaths annually. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), an estimated 100 to 125 cases of meningococcal infection occur annually on college campuses and five to 15 students die as a result.It is important that people of all ages are aware of the symptoms of meningitis. It is a very serious disease that can and does kill very quickly. It can strike a son, a daughter, a relative, a friend or a student.There are two common forms of Meningococcal infection, meningitis and septicemia. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria or viruses cause most cases of meningitis. People infected with meningitis often experience flu-like symptoms-a severe headache, stiff neck, drowsiness, fever and vomiting. Meningococcal septicemia is a type of blood poisoning caused by the same bacteria that cause the most common form of bacterial meningitis. It is the deadliest form of the disease. The bacteria release toxins into the blood, breaking down blood vessels, causing blood to leak out under the skin. This leaking causes a rash to appear. Red or brownish spots develop and then turn into purple bruises, blood blisters or blood spots. People might also experience stomach pain, rapid breathing and cold hands and feet. Anyone who experiences two or more of these symptoms concurrently is urged to seek medical attention.The bacteria that cause meningitis and septicemia are very common. Most people will carry the bacteria at some point in their lives without getting ill. Only a small portion of the population will develop meningitis or septicemia if they come in contact with the bacteria. The Meningitis Research Foundation reports that at least 95 percent of people recover from meningitis, but the recovery rate drops below 50 percent in patients with septicemia. Both can kill very quickly if not recognized and treated in time.According to the ACHA the risk of meningitis varies with age and is highest during the first four years of life. The risk decreases after this age but increases again in 15 to 24 year-olds. Violet Rich of Yuba City has seen the devastation caused by meningitis. Two of her nine children contracted the disease as toddlers. One son, 27-month-old Freddie S. Pedigo, died as a result. “He was fine when he woke up,” said Rich. “Then his head started hurting and he had to vomit. It was a horrible kind of vomiting.”A newspaper article Rich has saved states that Freddie’s condition worsened so rapidly that doctors had to apply mouth-to-mouth respiration until a Bird respirator could be put into operation. Despite the efforts of the doctors at Tulare County General Hospital in Tulare, California, Freddie died later that same day, Nov. 20, 1962.In the 26 years that she’s been on campus, Yuba College Head Nurse Susan Harris said she has never seen a case of meningitis on this campus but agrees that people need to be aware of the symptoms associated with the disease. “Even though it is relatively rare, you still have to know the signs and symptoms,” said Harris. “The more people that we can educate the better.” Research has found that college freshmen living in dormitories have a six times higher risk of contracting meningitis than college students do overall. Scientists are unsure of the reason for the higher risk in these demographics. Harris and Yuba College Residence Hall Coordinator Elizabeth Bowman both agree that the Yuba College dormitory is unlike a four year college dormitory in that it is more like renting an apartment than living in the tight quarters of a normal dormitory. Bowman also said that there aren’t many young students living in the Yuba College dorms. This may lessen the risk of contracting meningitis, but students should still learn to recognize the signs of this deadly disease.According to Harris, it is a known fact that alcohol and nicotine lower a person’s immunity. She feels that is just one of the reasons meningitis targets the younger population. “All of the things that make us more prone to disease are happening in that age group,” said Harris.