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Health Department Mobilizes After Suspected Meningitis-Related Death

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WikiHow: Creative Commons.

A Chapel Hill teen died suddenly on Wednesday. The Orange County Health Department suspects it was caused by a bacteria called meningococcus. It can lead to meningitis and blood infections. Both bring body aches and a rash among other symptoms.

The Chapel Hill boy only noticed symptoms a day before, but health officials estimate he was exposed to the bacteria last week.

Zack Moore is a medical epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health.

“A person is exposed and then, if they're going to get sick, its usually about a week later that they'll start developing symptoms,” Moore said. “And once symptoms develop, unfortunately, it can go very very fast.”

Sue Rankin is a communicable disease nurse at the Orange County Health Department. She says meningococcal bacteria isn't airborne. Rankin says it's spread through nasal secretions and saliva.

“The way those things would happen is if people shared eating utensils, food from the same plate, shared cigarettes, drank after each other, used the same water bottle... Those sort of things,” Rankin said.

The Orange County Health Department  is reaching out to the people who might have been exposed to the bacteria. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Rankin says the disease is very uncommon, but she adds that there is also a vaccine available for healthy adults and children.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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