A junior at Glen Burnie High School in Anne Arundel County died Tuesday after becoming ill the day before with symptoms associated with bacterial meningitis, school officials said Wednesday.
A letter was sent home to students' parents Wednesday outlining the girl's death and providing facts about bacterial meningitis, which is less contagious than viral meningitis but still deadly, said Bob Mosier, a school system spokesman.
The girl's illness has not been confirmed by doctors or a medical examiner to have been from meningitis, but the school system — in consultation with the county health department — decided to move proactively to alert the school community in case meningitis is confirmed, Mosier said.
Meningitis is an infection that inflames the meninges, membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
The girl has not been identified, and Mosier said he did not know how old she was.
"Our primary concern at the school is to be able to provide as much support as we can for this student's family. It's a tragic, tragic time for them," Mosier said. "We also want to be able to provide resources from a health standpoint, but also from the emotional standpoint, for the students and the staff."
Principal Vickie Plitt, in the letter sent home to parents, said "an abrupt onset of chills, fever, vomiting, headache, stiff neck and rash" are symptoms parents should watch for.
"If your child should develop any of these symptoms, contact your family physician immediately and inform the physician that your child may have had contact with an individual with meningococcal infection," Plitt wrote.
Plitt said the illness is not highly contagious and that students with routine contact are not at risk.
Mosier said the school will maintain regular cleaning schedules, based on recommendations from the health department.
Counselors are available for students, he said.
Mosier said he was not sure whether the girl's body will be autopsied or whether a more definitive answer as to her illness will be forthcoming.
He said the letter to parents — automated phone calls and emails were also sent — was not an uncommon communication after a student death, but he understands if parents are concerned.
"Whenever you say the word 'meningitis,' parents' alarms go way up," he said.
The school system is continuing to work closely with the health department to identify anyone from the school community who may have had close contact with the deceased girl since Nov. 30, to start them on treatment with antibiotics.
Those with questions are asked to call the health department's epidemiology program at 410-222-7256.
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