DURHAM — Lab results from a Durham 5-year-old who died of from suspected meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis last week have come back negative for the bacteria, but the diagnosis remains the same, Durham County health officials said Tuesday.
The child attended kindergarten at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham.
“Although the child’s blood culture was negative, the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis was made based on the clinical findings and the evaluation of the physicians who treated her,” said Dr. Arlene Seña, the public health department’s medical director.
To date, there have been no other reported cases of suspected meningitis at the school.
A total of 14 children were identified and treated as close contacts to the deceased child, according to a news release. Parents of other children in the school were notified by the Durham County Department of Public Health and given information about the disease last week.
Symptoms of bacterial meningitis may include high fever, nausea and vomiting, intense headache, and stiff neck. In meningococcal disease, a rash can develop with dark purple spots or patches on the arms, legs and body. Anyone with potential exposure who develops any of these symptoms should immediately contact a health care provider for evaluation and treatment.
Meningococcal (bacterial) meningitis is rare, but not unheard of. Since 2008, there have been five probable or confirmed cases of the disease in Durham County. The last probable or confirmed cases were in 2010, when two were reported.
The bacteria are spread by direct, close contact with saliva, mucous, or droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person, generally through activities such as sharing food or utensils. The bacteria are not spread by breathing the air where someone with the disease has been. Individuals who did not have this type of contact with the ill child have a low or minimal risk of getting this illness.
Individuals who had close contact with someone who is infected with meningococcal infection should receive antibiotics to prevent any possible infection. Preventive antibiotics are not recommended for people who were not in close contact with an infected person, but such people should be aware of possible symptoms and make sure they have received the recommended vaccination against the disease.
The best defense against meningococcal disease is keeping up to date with recommended immunizations. A vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of meningococcal disease and is routinely recommended for children and adolescents 11 to 18 years of age. Families are encouraged to make sure their preteen and adolescent children are up-to-date on all recommended vaccines, including the meningococcal vaccine.
In North Carolina, vaccination of all college students who live on campus in a dormitory is recommended.