9th grade student at East Chapel Hill High School dies of bacterial infection

Student passed away after contracting meningococcal disease
February 20, 2014 2:18:23 PM PST
Parents were notified about the death of a male 9th grade student at East Chapel Hill High School Wednesday afternoon.

Neither the school nor the health department will identify the student because of HIPAA laws, but we know the student started showing signs Tuesday and died Wednesday morning.

Now, parents are taking an alert about the student's death seriously.

"I'm just terribly, terribly sorry for the family. Terribly sorry," said parent Caroline Sherman.

Sherman got the terrible news from an automated call from the school. The message said that a student died from meningococcal disease.

"The call said that there was very sad news that a student had -- a ninth grader had passed away," said Sherman. 

Sherman, who has a sophomore and senior at the school, says the call explained the health department was involved.

"It's not airborne. It doesn't live for a long time on door knobs and other hard surfaces," said Orange County Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger. "The primary route of transmission is direct contact with the saliva."

Bridger said, though test results on the student are pending, at this time it appears the student died from a blood bacterial infection rather than meningitis. Like meningitis, meningococcal disease is passed through saliva.

"Kissing somebody, drinking after somebody, smoking the same cigarette as somebody, those types of things are what we worry about when we think about transmission," said Bridger.

Symptoms are flu-like and include fatigue and diarrhea. Health officials believe the student was exposed between Feb, 11 - 18. Now, they are working to identify relatives and close friends who might have come in contact.

"We've got nurses still working now to reach out to people who we think have come in contact with the student," said Bridger.

14 people believed to have come in contact with the student are being treated with antibiotics. The health department is urging those who think they might have come in contact with the student to contact their health provider and get an antibiotic. They say, if you're concerned and don't have a health provider, they'll help.

Meantime, the student's classmates have expressed condolences on social media. They're wearing the color red Thursday in his honor.

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