St. Helens Student Dies From Apparent Bacterial Meningitis


Photo: CDC

Columbia County Health officials are working to confirm whether a St. Helens High School student died from bacterial meningitis.

They're still waiting for test results, but based on the symptoms they aren't waiting to treat people who might have been contaminated.

Symptoms of meningitis include fever, stiff neck, severe headache, skin rash, weakness, confusion, irritability, and vomiting. Symptoms can appear two to 10 days after exposure, but usually appear within three or four days.

Antibiotics are being given to a small group of people. They needed to have close face-to-face contact with the student for four hours. He was also a wrestler, so if they wrestled with him between October 10 - 20 they will be given antibiotics.

Here is a letter that was sent to parents:

Dear SHHS community,

A student at St. Helens High School passed away on October 21, 2019, and doctors suspect bacterial meningitis (Neisseria meningitides) caused his death. Test results are expected later this week to pinpoint the exact cause of death.

Bacterial meningitis is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person when there is direct contact with mucus from an infected person’s nose or throat. The disease does not spread through casual contact or by simply being in the same room as an infected person.

These bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., by living in close quarters, kissing). The bacteria do not survive long outside of the throat and nose, so touching surfaces, such as desks or wrestling mats, would not constitute significant exposure. Humans are the only host and people who are not a close contact of a patient with meningococcal disease do not require prophylaxis.

Columbia County Public Health is conducting an investigation to determine who had contact with the deceased student. Public Health staff is directly contacting individuals who were potentially exposed to make sure they get preventive antibiotics.

At this time, the antibiotic prophylaxis recommendation is for:

Family and household members;

Individuals who have spent at least 4 hours in close, face-to-face association with the case (cumulatively, within 7 days of 10/20);

Anyone directly exposed to the case’s cough or nasopharyngeal secretions (e.g., via kissing, wrestling with him between 10/10 and 10/20)

This would not include students in the same classroom but would include wrestling partners, girlfriends or boyfriends, and siblings.

We have not received any information that any other students or family members have developed symptoms at this time. Carriers are most infectious during the 3 days prior to the onset of symptoms and are considered no longer communicable 24 hours after initiation of treatment or prophylaxis with appropriate antibiotics.

Symptoms of meningitis to watch for include fever, stiff neck, severe headache, skin rash, weakness, confusion, irritability, and vomiting. Symptoms can appear 2 to 10 days after exposure but usually occur within 3 to 4 days. Antibiotic treatment of the disease is usually successful, especially if started early after symptoms begin.

Individuals should seek medical care if signs or symptoms develop within the next two weeks. Individuals who may have been exposed should contact their primary care physician to discuss whether treatment is needed.

If you have any questions about this information, please call Columbia County Public Health at 503-397-7247.

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