S.F. fifth-grader succumbs to meningitis 

Health officials say children who had close contact with girl should get antibiotics

A San Francisco public school fifth-grader died from a case of bacterial meningitis, district officials confirmed Tuesday.

The girl began to feel ill Friday during school but didn’t tell anybody, according to Gwen Chan, the interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. Her parents took her to the hospital over the weekend, and the little girl died Monday.

The family notified the girl’s school, Tenderloin Community Elementary, Tuesday morning.

The school will remain open, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said, and no special cleaning measures will be taken, as done at the school of an Ohio first-grader who died of apparent meningitis earlier this month. A doctor and investigators from San Francisco’s Department of Public Health were at the school Tuesday.

"We are taking all of the actions that the experts [at the DPH] are advising us to take," Blythe said. "We’re following their lead."

Officials at the DPH were tight-lipped about the death, stating that the public safety issues had been addressed and that department officials had been dispatched to the school.

"The bacteria is spread with very close contact: kissing, sharing drinks or sharing food, very intimate contact," said Dr. Susan Fernyak, with the DPH. Just being in the same classroom with an infected child is not a risk, Fernyak added.

Letters from the department informing parents of the girl’s death and the potential health risks to other children were sent home Tuesday afternoon with the students.

Most of the families received letters indicating there was a "very small possibility" that their child would develop the disease, because their children did not come in close enough contact to share saliva with the girl who died.

Children who possibly could have shared food or drinks or kissed the girl were given a different letter with instructions to take antibiotics to prevent the disease.

There are two types of meningitis, bacterial and viral. Bacterial can lead to death. The symptoms of meningitis include a high fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and a rash. About 2,600 people get the disease each year in the United States; 10 percent to 15 percent of these people die, despite being treated with antibiotics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Community Principal Herb Packer said the girl’s parents — who have another daughter at the school, who is also in the fifth grade, were distraught when he spoke to them Tuesday.

Tenderloin Parent Martin Cortez said he and his wife are friends with the parents of the girl who died and were at UCSF Medical Center when she passed away. The girl was covered with "black spots," he said.

Although Cortez said he was "sort of" worried about the health of his third-grade son, a female staff member at the hospital told the family they were secure because the family had not had contact with the little girl one week prior to her death.

Grief counseling was provided to the fifth-grade students at Tenderloin Community, according to a counselor at the school, who did not want to be named. Students were also given art supplies if they wanted to draw or make a card for the family. Some of the students who were close to the girl were distressed, she said.

The counselor described the little girl as very social.

"She was a very sweet child, hardworking, she gave 110 percent academically," the counselor said. "She was very outgoing and had many friends here."


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Bonnie Eslinger

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Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016


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