Chapel Hill boy, 14, dies of apparent blood infection

jalexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2014 

  • Fighting meningococcal infection

    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 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.

    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.

— A 14-year-old student died from a suspected bacterial infection in his bloodstream Wednesday after complaining of a headache the day before.

The freshman at East Chapel Hill High went to the school nurse Tuesday after feeling sick, said Stacy Shelp, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Department. He was feverish. The school nurse sent him home and recommended he see a doctor, which he did later that day, Shelp said.

Test results are not back, but the cause of death is suspected to be meningococcemia, a rare bloodstream infection caused by Meningococcus, which can spread through saliva and respiratory droplets.

Multiple users on Twitter identified the student as Javan Stewart.

Stewart’s Facebook page says he is from Brooklyn, N.Y. An employee at Walker’s Funeral Home in Chapel Hill said the Stewart family asked about sending his body to New York for burial, although the family will not be using the funeral home.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools would not confirm the student’s name, citing the family’s request for privacy, spokesman Jeff Nash said.

The school system provided additional staff members for students at the school Thursday, he said.

Meningococcemia in N.C.

On average, there are 18 cases of meningococcemia a year in North Carolina, and it is most common in the winter and early spring.

There have been seven cases in the state so far this year.

Judy Butler, community help services supervisor for the Orange County Health Department, said this was the first case in the county in more than a year.

The school system notified parents of East Chapel Hill High students within hours of the boy’s death.

Fourteen people who reported coming in close contact with the student will or have been treated. However, going forward, there isn’t much more of a concern for other students, she said.

“It’s a concern because somebody died,” Butler said. “But as far as the expectation there will be other cases, then no.”

The infection has a high mortality rate if it attacks the bloodstream, with people showing symptoms three to four days before death. Symptoms can include a high fever, a stiff neck, eyes sensitive to light, vomiting, nausea and chills.

But people can carry the bacteria in their bodies and never get sick with it, Butler said. There’s no way to know when the student contracted it, she said.

“It’s wicked,” Butler said. “Many people who survive have lifelong health problems. But the people who are cured are very lucky.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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