Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sad News

East Chapel Hill High School, and all of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, is mourning the loss of a student who passed away on Wednesday, February 19.

This is an extremely difficult time. The support from parents and our community that has been shown to the students and staff at East is greatly appreciated...more than we can express.

We also appreciate the support of our Orange County Health Department. Dr. Bridger and her staff have been a constant resource for information. In fact, when Principal Eileen Tully sent a message to the East families letting them know of this sad news, she also included a letter from Dr. Bridger that provides additional medical information regarding meningococcal disease. The text of the letter is included below.

Again, thank you to the community for your support during this most difficult of times.

February 19, 2014

Dear Parent/Guardian:

We are very sad to report that a student from East Chapel Hill High School has died from what is presumed to be meningococcal disease. Confirmation is pending. This letter is to advise you to watch for the symptoms of meningococcal disease and what to do if your child reports being exposed.

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium known as “meningococcus”. This bacterium can cause meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), sepsis (infection of the bloodstream), and other serious illnesses.

The student may have been infectious at school on Feb. 11th, 12th, 17th and 18th. If a person is infected, symptoms usually start within 3-4 days of exposure but can take as long as 14 days to begin.

The most common type of meningococcal disease is meningitis. Symptoms of meningitis may include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, confusion and sleepiness. Another common type of meningococcal disease is sepsis. Symptoms may include vomiting; chills; severe pain in the muscles, joints, chest or stomach; rapid breathing; and diarrhea. In the later stages, a dark purple rash can appear all over the body.
If your child displays any of these symptoms, contact your physician immediately. The disease can progress rapidly.

The spread of meningococcal disease in a classroom setting is rare. The disease is spread by direct contact with oral secretions (saliva) such as sharing drinks, foods, kissing, and sharing cigarettes.

Preventive antibiotic treatment is only recommended for members of the household and others who might have had contact with the ill student’s saliva. The Orange County Health Department is working to identify everyone who needs preventive antibiotics in this situation. If you have questions about this, please call your physician or the Orange County Health Department at 919-245-2400.

Using good hand washing practices and encouraging your student not to share food, drinks, and eating utensils will also assist in preventing disease.

We are working closely with the CHCCS system to provide the information needed to all parents and staff.

Again, if your child has any of the symptoms listed above, please contact your child’s physician right away.

For additional information, please go to the Centers for Disease Control website at


Colleen Bridger, MPH, PhD
Health Director
Orange County Health Department

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