- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

ELDERSBURG, Md. (AP) — The Carroll County Health Department has notified the parents of fellow students and teammates of a 9-year-old girl who died over the weekend that the child had bacterial meningitis.

The contagious disease affects mainly children and young adults. The bacteria infect the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord and can cause serious blood infections.

Bacterial meningitis is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected person. It can be contracted through kissing or by sharing a drink or an eating utensil.

The girl, a fourth-grader at Linton Springs Elementary School in Eldersburg, became ill Saturday and died Sunday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Blood cultures confirmed Monday that she was infected with Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterial strain of the disease, health officials said.

Health officials did not identify the victim.

“We cannot by law identify the child, but whenever a child dies at a school, it becomes common knowledge fairly quickly,” said Dr. Debbie Middleton, the health department’s director of communicable diseases.

Any child who may have had direct contact with the girl should be treated with the antibiotic Rifampin, officials said.

The health department sent letters home Monday with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, providing information about the antibiotic and urging parents to contact their pediatricians if their children were in contact with the victim.

Letters also went to those who rode the same bus as the girl, played on her softball team or were in band, chorus or dance classes with her.

Her mother operates a home day care; those children have been treated, Dr. Middleton said.

In the letter, the health department described the symptoms, which can occur within two to 10 days of exposure. They include high fever; nausea and vomiting; severe headache; stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and back; and a rash of small, bright-red spots.

Although secondary meningitis infections usually do not occur, Dr. Middleton said, health officials would continue to take precautions.

“It is a very serious illness, and that’s why we take it very seriously,” Dr. Middleton said.

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