Meningitis death of World Youth Day pilgrim prompts health alert

Pilgrims at World Youth Day in Germany 2005 Credit Matthias Heil via Flickr CC BY NC ND 20 filter added CNA Pilgrims at World Youth Day in Germany, 2005. | Matthias Heil via Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0, filter added.

The Italian bishops' conference has issued an advisory to pilgrims, after a young Italian girl died of meningitis while she was returning home from World Youth Day in Poland.

The Italian publication Corriere della Sera identifies the girl as Susanna Rufi, 19, who died Monday in Vienna, Austria, as she was returning home to Italy.

"She had been preparing for WYD for a year," recounted Fr. Alessandro, the parish priest of her local Saint Polycarp parish in Rome, according to Corriere della Sera. "She was a wonderful girl, very active in the parish," he said, adding that she got good grades, and was active in the choir.

Rufi had reported feeling ill on Sunday evening, after arriving in Vienna with some 50 young people from the parishes of Saint Polycarp and Our Lady of Good Counsel, reports the Italian agency.

Meningitis is an infection-based inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include a headache, fever, and stiff neck. Meningitis, which can be fatal, is spread through respiratory droplets, for example through coughing or sneezing.

According to an Aug. 1 statement issued by the Italian bishops' conference, the members of the girl's pilgrimage group have taken a prophylaxis as a precaution.

The conference advised all World Youth Day pilgrims who passed through the Italian House – the center in Krakow which served Italian pilgrims – to undergo the same prophylaxis, per the advice of the Vienna hospital.

Those at risk of exposure who experience a high fever, headache, sore throat, vision problems, or loss of consciousness should go immediately to the hospital, as these symptoms could indicate an infection, the statement advised.

The bishops' conference offered its condolences to the girl's family, "at the conclusion of an experience which was a lesson in fraternity and sharing."

Tens of thousands of Italians were among the many pilgrims to attend World Youth Day in Krakow, which at its peak was attended by as many as 2 million people during its final days.

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