Meningococcal Disease Cause of Child’s Death

For Immediate Release: July 12, 2004

Contact: Vermont Department of Health
Communication Office
802- 863-7281

BURLINGTON, VT – The Vermont Department of Health today reports that a Chittenden County toddler died over the weekend from meningococcal disease. The child, who attended Ed-U-Care Children’s Center in Essex Junction, became ill on Saturday night, was taken to the hospital and died early Sunday morning.

“This is a very sad event,” said Cort Lohff, state epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health. “The likelihood of other children or staff at the center becoming ill is extremely low, however as a precaution we have recommended that individuals who were in close contact with the child during the past week receive preventive antibiotics.”

At this point, public health nurses are working to contact all of the families with children at the center; many have already been referred to their primary care physicians for preventive antibiotics.

Meningococcal disease is uncommon and it is very unusual for more than one case to occur in a community. In Vermont, there is an average of five cases per year.

Whenever a case of meningococcal disease is suspected, the Department of Health is called in to investigate. Public health nurses and epidemiologists interview the patient’s physician, family members and the patient, if possible. In this way, they can determine who may have been exposed to the disease and make recommendations regarding use of preventive antibiotics.

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium Neisseria meningitidis . Different kinds of infections can be caused by this bacterium, including meningitis. This is not a disease that children routinely receive a vaccine for.   

Even though meningococcal illness is uncommon, symptoms include high fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking at bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In very young children, the classic symptoms of fever, headache and stiff neck may be absent or difficult to detect and the child may only appear slow or inactive or be irritable, have vomiting or be feeding poorly.