Tragedy keeps health concerns at the forefront at King’s Fork Middle

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 22, 2004

When Sammantha March found out that a teacher at her daughter’s middle school had died of the bacterial infection Neisseria meningitides, her maternal instincts kicked in – hard.

&uot;My first thought was to snatch her right out of school,&uot; March said of her King’s Fork sixth-grader. &uot;I called our pediatrician, and he told me that if she hadn’t been in his class, she would be OK. I trust him, but the first time she has a headache, a stiff neck, a fever, we’re going straight to the hospital.&uot;

James Parker, a seventh-grade teacher at King’s Fork, died of the illness on Saturday – just two days after he was diagnosed.


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&uot;It works fast, if he was diagnosed on Thursday and died on Saturday,&uot; March said. &uot;It scares me. I’m going to take the doctor’s word, but I’m going to keep an eye on her.&uot;

That’s the best way to go about it, said Western Tidewater Health District nurse manager Pat Winter.

&uot;Parents need to know that if their child was not in (Parker’s) class, they’re not at risk,&uot; said Winter, who said that this was the first infection of its kind in this area in her 21 years at the district. &uot;If they do get sick, we recommend that they take them to the family doctor or emergency room.&uot;

Other symptoms include vomiting, numbness, coldness or loss of feeling in the extremities, a sensitivity to light, seizures, or purple spots or a rash.

But Winter stressed the importance of not overreacting.

&uot;This infection is generally transmitted through direct contact of respiratory secretions, like a saliva or mucus,&uot; she said. &uot;Since this teacher didn’t have that type of contact with his students, they’re at a low risk. But to be cautious and because parents are extremely concerned with their children’s health, we’ve decided to offer preventive treatment.&uot;

Students, especially those in Parker’s classes, were given rifampin, an antibiotic medicine used to prevent meningitis or other infections caused by Neisseria meningitides. Faculty members, particularly those that went to visit Parker at Obici hospital, were also treated. At press time, more than

150 students and faculty had been given the treatment at King’s Fork.

The bacteria that causes Neisseria meningitides resides in the throat and/or nasal passages of between 15 and 25 percent of the population. However, it only attacks certain people, particularly those whose immune system is already weakened by another cold or illness. The removal of the spleen also lowers a person’s defenses against the disease, as the spleen helps clean out the body

It’s a likely scenario, said Winter, that Parker might have been infected by someone who had no idea they were sick.

&uot;If he was exposed to it from someone who was healthy,&uot; she said, &uot;then it’s important that the carrier is treated to keep it from spreading.&uot;

For more information, call 435-4126.