The Central District Health Department believes the death of a High Plains Community Schools student on Thursday was more likely the result of bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae rather than bacterial meningitis.
Testing indicates the presence of streptococcus pneumoniae in the 16-year-old’s blood supply, said Health Director Teresa Anderson of the Central District Health Department.
Bacterial meningitis, which is much more serious, cannot totally be ruled out, Anderson said. But it is more likely that streptococcus pneumoniae were a factor in the youth’s death, she said.
Health officials were concerned that the student had contracted bacterial meningitis, “which is a very serious condition,” Anderson said.
Bacterial meningitis is also known as meningococcal meningitis. While meningococcal bacteria “are not terribly easy to catch, they are very dangerous,” Anderson said. The reaction can be severe, she said.
Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria live in the body of many people.
“A lot of us just carry it around,” Anderson said. But sometimes, for reasons not completely known, “it gets into the blood and it can cause an infection.”
Representatives of the Health Department and Litzenberg Memorial County Hospital in Central City counseled and provided antibiotics to more than 300 people on Friday in Polk and Central City. Officials believe they have “reached everybody that is at high risk,” Anderson said.
For most people, the antibiotic treatment consisted of one tablet of ciprofloxacin. An alternative antibiotic was given to pregnant women and children younger than 2 years old.
Initially, personnel planned to give the antibiotics to people who were at high risk of exposure. But the death of a young person caused high anxiety, so pills were given to more people than planned, she said. Health and medical personnel also provided education to people.
The actions taken were “based on what we knew on Friday,” Anderson said. The Health Department, she said, is not about to let “bacterial meningitis slip through the cracks.”
Personnel were pleased to find that the bacteria involved is “not that dangerous scary bug that we feared,” she said.
Classes were held on Monday as they normally would be at High Plains, said Brian Tonniges, superintendent of High Plains Community Schools, which is based in Polk. The school is closely following the advice and suggested protocol of the Central District Health Department.
“They’ve been very helpful to us,” Tonniges said.
An autopsy was done on the student’s body on Thursday, Merrick County Attorney Lynelle Homolka said.
Homolka said the “a great team effort” responded to the potential health emergency to make sure that the public’s health was not endangered.
The Merrick County Sheriff’s Department and Homolka, acting as coroner, investigated the scene of the death at the family’s home. Two deputies also attended the autopsy.
“As soon as the diagnosis was revealed, we had emergency management involved,” Homolka said. “We had local physicians helping us.” Hospital administrators and staff members pitched in, as well as the Health Department.
Those agencies “came together quickly, analyzed the situation and devised a plan to educate and protect the public,” she said. “The Health Department has expertly managed the situation, in my opinion.”
The county’s hearts, Homolka said, go out to the students, friends and family involved in the “terrible tragedy.”
Homolka is prohibited from releasing the name of the deceased because there was “a potential infectious disease involved,” she said.
The Four Corners Health Department, based in York, also assisted in the case.