School mourns sudden death of student

Monday, April 7th 2008, 7:41 pm
By: News 9

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Officials in the Paoli school district planned to dispatch counselors to the elementary school after the death on Friday of a sixth-grade girl who had been diagnosed with meningitis.

Garvin County and state Department of Health officials confirmed Friday night that the 12-year-old had contracted the condition and died. The school district superintendent said his office had been notified a day earlier that the girl had meningitis.

The girl's name wasn't released.

"It was confirmed about 4:30 yesterday (Thursday). We had a carnival last night and contacted the parents of every sixth-grade student that we had," Paoli Superintendent Rick Worden said.

"We told them what was going on and the fact that they probably needed to contact their local physician. We also contacted parents of our fifth-grade girls. Our fifth-grade and sixth-grade girls have PE together."

Laurence Burnsed, the director of the communicable disease division of the state Health Department, said when a case of meningococcal disease is reported, county health department officials work to identify those who may have had close, personal contacts with the infected person and to recommend appropriate antibiotic treatment be prescribed to protect them.

Many people carry the bacterial infection in their noses and throats and never experience symptoms, Burnsed said.

"People of all ages can experience meningococcal disease, however, very young children, the elderly and persons with health conditions that compromise their immune systems are at slightly higher risk," Burnsed said.

People who are ill with meningococcal disease may experience fever, intense headaches, vomiting and a stiff neck, he said.

"Again, I want to stress that anyone with close, personal contact and extended exposure, they are at slightly higher risk. People whose contact is just with the general public or a student in a classroom setting are not at increased risk," he said.

Oklahoma averaged 18 cases a year between 2003 and 2007, Burnsed said.

According to the Garvin County Health Department, the girl was the sixth person in Oklahoma to contract meningococcal disease in 2008. Two of them have died, the department said.

Worden said the district has seen students die before, but never like this.

"It's a very small community. I've been here 14 years as superintendent and we've had older students die in automobile accidents, but we're never lost anyone this young," Worden said.