The Orange County Health Department worked closely with East Chapel Hill High School and the school district shortly after finding out a 14-year-old student at East contracted meningococcal disease and later died.
“We have given prophylactic antibiotics to 14 contacts at this point,” said Orange County Health Department Director Colleen Bridger as she addressed the media Thursday morning. “Typically it’s going to be close family members that are the most exposed.”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella joined Dr. Bridger and said the student left school Tuesday after telling the school nurse he felt ill.
“The nurse advised the family to seek medical attention,” Dr. Frocella said. “He thought maybe he just wasn’t feeling well. The nurse contacted the parents and advised them to seek medical attention, and the family did go see either their doctor or a clinic.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and an altered mental status (confusion). It is spread through the transmission of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva.
“Meningococcal disease is a generic term that encompasses the different types of illnesses that you can get if you are infected with the bacteria,” Dr. Bridger said. “You’re most commonly, probably, familiar with meningitis, which is when the bacteria gets into the spinal fluid and the brain of the infected individual; that would be meningitis. We believe we are dealing with a blood infection in this particular case, which is why we’ll be referring to it a little bit more generically.”
Dr. Bridger said it’s impossible to trace where the student picked up the bacteria.
She said the disease is most commonly seen in adolescents.
“I think 10-15 percent of people who are infected with a meningococcal disease will die,” Dr. Bridger says. “Another up to 50-percent will suffer life-long consequences of the disease if they do recover. So it’s a very, very serious disease. The good news is it’s very, very hard to get.”
Anyone experiencing symptoms should contact the Orange County Health Department or your personal physician immediately.
For more information about how East Chapel Hill is handling the situation at the school, click here.