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Meningitis death of girl, 9, prompts health warnings


Health officials, trying to warn people who had contact with a 9-year-old Carroll County girl who died of bacterial meningitis, have mailed more than 300 letters and visited the girl's softball team and dance class to urge the use of antibiotics as a preventive measure.

The girl, Lauren Renee Truslow, was described as an outgoing child whose wide range of activities has complicated the efforts to track down people who may be at risk for contracting the disease, which is contagious and fatal in more than one out of 10 cases. She played flute in the school band, sang in the chorus and was a catcher on a recreation-league softball team. Her mother ran a day-care center at home.

On Friday, Lauren accompanied her class on a field trip to Bear Branch Nature Center in Westminster and went to dance class Saturday. She became ill Saturday and died Sunday.

Linton Springs Elementary, where she was in fourth grade, sent letters home with pupils Monday. Yesterday, Debbie Middleton, the Carroll County Health Department's director of communicable diseases, answered questions from anxious parents at the school.

Lauren would have supported those efforts, said her mother Tammy Renee Grizzel Truslow.

"Lauren loved people," her mother said. "She would be glad the news was getting out there and making people get the medication they need. She would say 'make sure everyone knows.'

"She was a healthy, vibrant child, who loved dancing, music and sports," Truslow said of her only daughter and the second of her four children.

So far, no other cases have been reported.

Meningitis mainly affects children and young adults. Bacterial meningitis is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected individual, such as through kissing or by sharing a drink or an eating utensil.

The bacteria infect the fluid around the brain and spinal cord and can cause serious blood infections. On average, 10 percent to 15 percent of cases are fatal.

"This is a contagious illness, but not excessively so. We are advising those who came in close contact to take the antibiotic as a precaution," said Dr. Robert Wack, chief of pediatrics at Carroll Hospital Center, where Lauren was treated Saturday.

Middleton said Lauren's siblings and the two children in the family's home day care have been treated with the antibiotic.

"I feel satisfied that we have tracked everyone," Middleton said.

The Health Department sent letters home with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, providing information about antibiotics and urging parents to contact their pediatricians if their children had come in contact with Lauren. The letter also detailed the symptoms of the disease, which can occur within two to 10 days of exposure and often begin suddenly.

Blood cultures taken at Carroll Hospital Center's emergency room Saturday confirmed the child was infected with Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterial strain of the disease, Wack said.

"The bacteria overwhelmed her immune system and took off," Wack said. "It literally struck like lightning."

On Monday, Middleton, with the county Health Department, went to the softball fields where Lauren was the catcher on a recreation-league team and was at the elementary school in Eldersburg yesterday, as was schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker.

"Basically, parents are asking about how close a contact would have been to be considered contagious, and they wanted more information about symptoms," Middleton said.

"I understand where these parents are coming from," she said. "This child was in school Friday and gone by the time children got back to class on Monday."

Charles Sperling of Woodbine picked his children up from the school yesterday.

"I think the school and the Health Department have done everything to allay parents' concerns," said Sperling, a registered nurse. "This is a tragic event. I don't know what else anyone could have done."

Linton Springs Principal Deborah Bunker said she has received many calls, mostly from parents offering prayers and support for the Truslow family, which also has a first-grader at the school.

"Parents are asking, 'What can I do?' " Bunker said. "There is just this overall sadness because so many people knew this little girl."

Lauren's class had recently worked on an environmental project that involved re-creating a bay meadow. That meadow will be dedicated to Lauren, Bunker said.

Bunker sent home a second letter to parents yesterday that included a thank-you from Tammy and Robb C. Truslow to the faculty "who helped make learning a wonderful experience for Lauren."

Tammy Truslow said, "School meant the world to Lauren. She made pictures for her teachers that she planned to give them on the last day of school. We will do that for her."

The family will receive friends at the Haight Funeral Home, 6416 Sykesville Road, Sykesville, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow. Graveside services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Evergreen Memorial Gardens, Finksburg.

In addition to her parents, Lauren is survived by brothers Christopher A., Jonathon E. and Robb C. Truslow II, all of Sykesville; maternal grandparents, Sammy and Shirley Grizzel of Pasadena and paternal grandparents, Dennis and Paullette Truslow of Lisbon.

Meningitis facts

Meningitis is an infection, usually viral or bacterial, of the fluid in the spinal cord or surrounding the brain.

The disease is fatal in 10 percent to 15 percent of cases. Of patients who recover, up to 15 percent suffer hearing loss, retardation, a loss of limbs, or other side effects.

Symptoms: high fever, headache, stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and back, nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness. Some victims experience a skin rash consisting of small, bright-red spots.

The bacteria are spread through respiratory and throat secretions -- often by coughing or kissing. It is not spread by casual contact.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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