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Health Alert Issued for Cumberland County High School

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HOPE MILLS — TheCumberland CountyHealth Department has put a high school on alert after a student contracted a potentially deadly and infectious disease.

A teenager at South View High School in Hope Mills is being treated for a bacterial illness that can lead to meningitis.

The 16-year-old male student has been diagnosed with meningococcemia, a bacterial blood infection that can be deadly if left untreated. He is hospitalized and listed in fair condition.

Symptoms are similar to the flu and the infection can be spread through close contact. The health department is working closely with the high school to identify other students and faculty who could be at risk.

"This is a communicable disease that can spread from person to person by close and intimate contact," says Dr. Jesse Williams, Cumberland County Health Director. "Respiratory droplets are the major mode of transportation. A plan has been put in place to contact and offer prophylactic treatment to students, family and others who have been in close contact with this student."

Letters were sent home Thursday with more than 100 students who had classes with the infected student. The letters ask parents to have their children checked even if they seem fine.

Doctors also urge parents not to ignore symptoms that are very much like the flu: a high fever, headache or a rash.

"A lot of the symptoms may seem similar, but if a child is unusually sick, and especially if they have a rash, we want parents to have children receive early medical treatment," says Dr. Rita Gunter, a pediatrician with the Cumberland County Health Department.

More than 100 South View students and their parents attended a free clinic at South View High School Thursday night.

Students who had classes with the infected 16-year old were given two days worth of Rifampin, an antibiotic which reduces the chance of developing the disease.

For a student to receive the prescription, a parent or legal guardian had to be present.

"It doesn't scare me," says student Brandon McCraney. "I'm glad they took the proper precautions about being safe with all the students and everything. I think they did a pretty good job about it."

Doctors say students who only shared a classroom with the 16-year-old have less than a one-in-4,000 chance of getting infected.

"I'm definitely concerned," parent Gloria Plewis said. "And I will be keeping an eye on [my daughter] for any signs or symptoms."

South View Principal Robert Barnes took time to assure his students there is no reason to panic.

"No one's going to get really sick. No one's going to die if they follow the directions we give them. I think our kids trust us and understand we have their best interests at heart," says Barnes.

Doctors and nurses will be at the school all day Friday to answer any questions from students and parents.