A San Diego-area high school student died Thursday from a suspected meningococcal bacterial infection.
Ninth grader Jewelean Pimentel attended Patrick Henry High School, and she was last in class on Tuesday, falling sick that day.
San Diego County Deputy Public Health Officer Eric McDonald said friends and family who have been in close contact with Jewelean have been given antibiotics to prevent getting the infection themselves.
When asked how many people were exposed to her, McDonald estimated less than 100.
"We've identified a number of close contacts ... but really the risk of being a casual contact of an individual with this is very very low," he said.
In a letter sent home with students Thursday, Patrick Henry High School officials warned parents to be on alert for signs of meningococcal disease in their kids.
Symptoms include fever, intense headaches, lethargy and stiff neck. The disease can also cause purple rashes that don’t change color when you press on them, and McDonald said Jewelean had that rash.
Meningococcal bacteria can infect the blood or cause inflammation of tissues covering the brain and spinal cord.
Health officials will receive test results next week to confirm if Jewelean had meningococcal disease.
Once exposed, victims usually see symptoms within three to four days, though it could be as long as ten days before symptoms show.
"Someone can be very young, healthy (and) vibrant with no medical as this individual was and then succumb to the illness very quickly, in 24-48 hours," McDonald said.
If you suspect your child has a similar infection, take them to your doctor as soon as possible.
On Friday, Patrick Henry High School principal Listy Gillingham sent a note to parents about Jewelean's death. The letter read, in part:
“All of us at Henry High School are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of this student. Our sincere condolences go out to the family. Be assured that this disease is spread through close contact with the person who has the infection and it is highly unlikely that anyone at school was exposed. As a precaution, be alert for signs of meningococcal disease.
You are encouraged to talk with your child about his or her thoughts and feelings about the death. Provide outlets for expression such as drawing, writing and talking. Be honest. If asked difficult questions, it’s OK to say you don’t know the answers. Reassure your child of their own health and safety. Stay physically close to your child. Hugs and affection are always appreciated and helpful during this time.”
In the note, the principal also said the district’s Crisis Response Team would be on campus Tuesday to help support students, staff and parents during this tragic time.
This is the second case of possible meningococcal disease reported this year in the county and the first death. In 2013, San Diego County saw 16 reported cases and three deaths due to the disease.
Last November, Carlsbad native Aaron Loy, a graduate of La Costa Canyon High School, lost both feet after he contracted the same type of bacteria that possibly killed the Patrick Henry student.
"Someone can be very young healthy vibrant with no medical -- as this individual was -- and then succumb to the illness very quickly, in 24 to 48 hours," said McDonald.
A vaccine is available to prevent certain strains of meningococcal disease, and it's recommended for children 11 to 18 years old. Shots are available through county public health centers.