Meningitis Strikes Quickly and Unpredictably
Posted December 7, 1998 6:00 a.m. EST
RALEIGH — Hundreds of people turned out at Smithfield-Selma Senior High School Tuesday to say an emotional goodbye to honor studentJeremy Scarborowho died Friday after a sudden illness. The death was a sad reminder for other families affected by meningitis.
The Johnston County Health Department says the bacteria which indicatesmeningitiswas found in Scarboro's blood stream.
Health experts are still trying to sort out who had close contact with the 16-year-old.
State Epidemiologist Newt MacCormack says some boys who were playing basketball with Scarboro drank out of the same water bottle. People who have had this kind of intimate contact need to be treated immediately to prevent meningitis.
Close friends and relatives are also being treated to prevent the disease, a rare, but deadly one which affects between 50 and 100 people in North Carolina every year.
So far this year, 56 people in North Carolina have contracted some form of meningococcal infection. It's a common bacteria which does not make everyone sick. But for those who do contract the disease, it can prove fatal in a matter of hours.
Almost four years ago, 17-year-old Susan McDowell came down with what her parents thought was the flu. By the time they saw a doctor, it was too late to save her life.
Jerry McDowell describes the experience. "By the time you figure out it's bacterial meningitis, it's very serious and very late in trying to recover from it."
Every time a child dies of meningitis, the McDowells, and others like them, remember their pain.
"It's just kind of like a stab in the heart because you know how they're feeling," says McDowell.
Sandra Chambers' 4-year-old son Patrick is one of the few children to survive bacterial meningitis.
"It just did something to me when we heard about it last night on the news," Chambers says. "We just stopped for awhile and we prayed for his family. I let Patrick know how lucky he was and what a true blessing he was."
The state epidemiologist says most cases of meningitis, though serious, are isolated.
MacCormack says "people who develop a fever, headache, stiff neck, have trouble putting their chin down on their chest, should seek medical attention immediately." The state epidemiologist reiterates these symptoms are the exception not the rule.
Still, Chambers says, it is best to be prepared. "Just like you think about cancer and AIDS, meningitis is very serious, more people need to know about it and be educated about it."
Early detection is the best defense against the disease.