College Athlete Dies Of Rare Bacterial Illness Called Forgotten Disease

October 28, 2019

A Kansas State college athlete died suddenly from a rare bacterial infection after thinking her symptoms were due to tonsillitis, according to news reports.

Samantha Scott, 23, was a top coxswain on the Kansas State University rowing team, according to a statement from the university. But about two weeks ago, she began to feel ill.

Initially, it was thought that Scott had tonsillitis, or inflammation of the tonsils, according to local news outlet KDVR. Tonsillitis can cause symptoms like a sore throat, fever and pain when swallowing. But Scott had actually developed a condition called Lemierre syndrome, which is so rare that it was referred to as “the all but forgotten disease” in a 2006 report of a similar case.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD), Lemierre syndrome is a bacterial infection that begins in the throat and causes symptoms such as a sore throat and fever, followed by swelling of one of the jugular veins in the neck. Later, pus-filled tissue moves from the throat to various organs, including the lungs.

A number of different bacteria can cause Lemierre’s syndrome, but the most common is the bacterium Necrobacterium, a type of bacteria that can be found in the throat and even in healthy people.

In fact, this condition often occurs in healthy young people, but exactly why it develops is hard to understand. One theory is that certain viral or other bacterial infections may allow F. necrophorum bacteria to invade the mucous membranes of the throat, GARD says.

The condition can be treated with antibiotics but requires quick action, as a delay of four or more days in diagnosis leads to significantly worse results, GARD says. Unfortunately, diagnosis is often delayed due to initially harmless symptoms and a lack of awareness of the disease, the 2006 case report said.

Despite being called the “forgotten disease,” the syndrome appears to be becoming more common as doctors have tried to control their use of antibiotics, according to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).UAB says about one in 70,000 young people develop the disease each year, and about 6 percent die from it.

Scott died on Saturday (Oct. 27).

Scott’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of medical care and funeral expenses. According to the GoFundMe page, the family is also hoping to start a scholarship fund on behalf of Scott for the Kansas State University rowing team.

“Sam was known for her positive outlook on life and her infectious smile,” her family wrote.” Those who knew her intimately were able to speak in depth about her outgoing personality and ability to lift anyone up.”