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Parents urged to 'get to the doctor' at first signs of meningitis

News of the death of child from a probable case of meningitis is a painful reminder for a Raleigh couple who lost their daughter to the bacterial infection 18 years ago. They're urging parents to pay attention to the signs of infection.

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Jerry and Dolores McDowell think about their daughter every single day.

Susan McDowell was 18 and a senior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh when she died after contracting meningitis in 1995.

“Time doesn't really heal it in my opinion, but you just learn to deal with it in a different way,” Jerry McDowell said.

When they heard Thursday about the death of a 5-year-old in Durham this week from what appears to be meningitis, the couple was flooded with emotions.

“It brings back memories,” Dolores McDowell said. “Our hearts go out to the parents of the child.”

Officials with the Durham County Department of Public Health are investigating the death of the 5-year-old, who attended Mount Zion Christian Academy on Fayetteville Street. Nine other children who went to the school are being treated with preventative antibiotics because they had been in close contact with the child, officials said.

The unidentified child presented no symptoms of the disease until Wednesday morning and died at Duke University Hospital. It could be several days before lab results confirm the case, although sometimes results are inconclusive.

Bacterial meningitis can be transmitted through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions, such as kissing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it cannot be spread through casual contact or by breathing the air where a person with the disease has been.

Wake County Public Health Director Sue Lynn Ledford says children should be vaccinated as infants, in adolescence and then again before college.

She said parents should also be aware of the symptoms of meningitis, which include a sudden onset of a fever, headache or stiff neck. Those symptoms can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and an altered mental status.

“You're going to see things like fever, upset stomach, throwing up, a very bad headache,” Ledford said. “If child is complaining of a bad headache, that's something that's parents should pay attention to.”

The McDowells say creating awareness about meningitis is the best way they can honor their daughter's memory. They remember her as a teen who loved life and loved helping others.

“Get to the doctor,” Dolores McDowell offered to parents. “Make sure it is the flu and not meningitis.”



Amanda Lamb, Reporter

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