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College Athlete Dies of ‘Forgotten Disease’, A Rare Bacterial Illness

A college student-athlete in Kansas died suddenly from a rare bacterial infection caused by the Fusobacterium necrophorum, a type of bacterium that is the most common cause of Lemierre syndrome. The disease is a rare infection that’s been dubbed as “forgotten disease.”

The 23-year-old, Samantha Scott, succumbed to the illness after thinking her symptoms were due to tonsillitis. The deceased was a top coxswain on the rowing team at Kansas State University.

Initially, it was thought that Scott had been suffering from tonsillitis, or inflammation of the tonsils, as a local news outlet suggests. People suffering from tonsillitis show symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, and pain when swallowing. But later it was confirmed that Scott had actually developed an illness called Lemierre syndrome, a condition referred to as “all-but-forgotten disease” in a 2006 report of a similar case because it is so rare.

Lemierre syndrome is a bacterial infection that begins in the throat and the patient shows symptoms such as a sore throat and fever. These symptoms are then followed by swelling of one of the jugular veins in the neck, as explained by experts at the National Institutes of Health’s Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD). Pus-filled tissue then moves from the throat to various other organs, including the lungs.

Fusobacterium necrophorum is the most common bacteria that causes this illness and it is also a type of bacteria that can be found in the throat, even among healthy people.

The condition can be treated with antibiotics if there is not much delay in diagnosis by four or more days. Delay in diagnosis leads to significantly worse outcomes, GARD says. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is often delayed because of a lack of awareness of the disease and the similarity of its symptoms to other diseases, the 2006 case report said.

Despite being called a “forgotten disease,” the syndrome is becoming more common as doctors have tried to limit their use of antibiotics, as suggested by The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). About one in 70,000 young adults have been reported to have developed the condition each year, and about 6 percent have died from the Lemierre syndrome, UAB said.

Scott’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign in order to cover the expenses of medical bills and funeral costs. The family is also going to start a scholarship fund on behalf of Scott for the rowing team that she was a part of.

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