The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday August 17th

Meningococcal disease kills East Chapel Hill High School student

An East Chapel Hill High School student died Wednesday from meningococcal disease.

How the 14-year-old was exposed has not been determined, but he developed symptoms on Tuesday.

Different diseases

According to the Center for Disease Control, meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can cause meningitis, but it is not the same thing:

  • These bacteria can cause other illnesses, including a bloodstream infection.
  • Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can develop within 3 days of exposure.
  • Meningitis is caused when the protective linings of the brain and spinal cord are infected by this bacteria.

His name has not been released.

Stacy Shelp, public information officer for the Orange County Department of Health, said meningococcal disease is only spread by direct contact like kissing or sharing drinks.

It is not airborne or spread through casual contact.

“This makes the disease fairly rare,” she said.

“According to the latest statistics, over the past eight years, North Carolina has had only 18 reported cases of meningococcal disease in the whole state.”

Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and increased sensitivity to light.

Since the student’s name was not released, it is not known if the child had been vaccinated against meningococcal infections.

The Orange County Department of Health provided the school system with facts so they could relay to parents and students what was going on and how to take precaution.

“This isn’t something that would require us to close the school and wipe it down,” said Jeffrey Nash, executive director of community relations at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“But the worst thing that could happen to any school has happened — the loss of a student.”

The school system has had extra nurses, social workers and counselors available to help the students recover from the loss.

The Parent-Teacher Association stands ready to support parents, staff and students.

“My first and most important thought would be that the prayers and thoughts of the community are with the family of this young man as they deal with every parent’s greatest fear,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA.

“Our role as parent leaders is to support the school staff and students in whatever way we can.”

The Department of Health is connecting with those directly affected to find out about possible exposure and connect them with preventative antibiotics.

Nurses are taking calls from concerned people about exposure and symptoms.

“It is a tragic situation, but there is not a lot of need for community concern,” Shelp said.

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