Chapel Hill student dies suddenly of meningitis-like disease

From staff reportsFebruary 19, 2014 

— A 14-year-old student of East Chapel Hill High School has died of an illness apparently linked to meningitis.

The student, who is not being identified, was in school on Tuesday and passed away Wednesday, according to school and county officials.

The child was believed to be infected by the bacterium “meningococcus,” which can cause several illnesses, including: meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord; sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream; and other serious illnesses, according to the Orange County Health Department.

Transmission of the disease in a “classroom setting” is rare, but the bacterium can spread by saliva when people kiss or share drinks, food or cigarettes, the health department told parents in a letter.

The student may have been infectious and in school on Feb. 11, 12, 17 and 18, according to Colleen Bridger, the county’s health director. People infected by meningococcus generally show symptoms within three or four days, but onset can take 14 days.

The school notified parents of the death within hours via voice messages and emails.

Health officials recommend preventive antibiotic treatment for members of the deceased student’s household and others who might have had contact with the student’s saliva.

The Orange County Health Department is working to identify people who need preventive treatment. The health department requests that anyone with questions call a physician or the health department at 919-245-2400.

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