D.C. health officials said yesterday that a Ruth K. Webb Elementary School first-grader who recently died likely had bacterial meningitis.
“We’re pretty sure,” said Dr. Karyn Berry of the D.C. Department of Health’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. “We have very strong suspicions.”
The student, Tayquan Garvin, 6, was last in school Feb. 18.
Dr. Berry said the boy died Friday after being admitted to a hospital Feb. 23.
Health officials are awaiting test results to confirm their diagnosis. They suspect the child’s illness was caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, which can be spread through contact with an infected person’s saliva or respiratory fluids.
“This bacteria is not easily spread like the flu or the cold,” Dr. Berry said.
She said officials have no reports of secondary cases.
“Typically … you’ll see them shortly after the time period when the first person becomes ill,” Dr. Berry said. “No one so far that we’ve identified has exhibited symptoms related to this case.”
Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord and has a one- to 10-day incubation period. Symptoms include headaches, high fever, nausea and upper-body stiffness.
Dr. Berry said an outbreak is declared when two cases occur in roughly the same geographical area.
Last month, an outbreak of bacterial meningitis in eastern China spread through schools in 11 cities and killed at least eight persons.
Dr. Berry said officials will continue to watch Tayquan’s family members and classmates to see whether they show symptoms of the disease. She said the family members are receiving antibiotics as a precaution, but there is no pre-emptive test to determine whether others have been infected.
Dr. Berry said about 10 percent of those infected with the disease will die. Health officials said 23 cases of meningitis were reported in the District in 2003, and 10 cases were reported last year.
Amy Jones, principal of Webb Elementary, in the 1300 block of Mount Olivet Road NE, said Tayquan’s death was “like losing a family member when you’re in a school with 460 students.”
“Just talking to other students and letting them know one of their classmates has moved on is the most difficult part,” she said.
School officials sent home a letter and fact sheet Tuesday to alert parents and guardians about the symptoms.
A D.C. Department of Health official has briefed staff at the school, and grief counseling was made available to students and staff.
Miss Jones said everybody at the school is beginning to rest easier because the incubation period has passed.
“I think that was a concern for everyone because you just don’t know,” she said.
Lloyd Hardy, whose two children attend the school, said he is concerned about the case because his kindergarten-age son was sick and in the hospital last week.
“He was throwing up and couldn’t keep anything down,” said Mr. Hardy, 30, an electrician. “So when I heard about this, I immediately began to do some investigating. I’ve been told to keep my eye on him and make sure he doesn’t have any more symptoms.”