A senior at Coral Reef Senior High School died Friday at a local hospital of bacterial meningitis.
The sudden death shocked the school community a mega magnet program with 3,200 students from all over Miami-Dade - and put parents and students on alert for the symptoms of the disease.
The case is not related to the national fungal meningitis outbreak that has killed 14, including two in Florida, according to the Miami-Dade County Health Department.
The 18-year-old student, Christopher Valdes, started feeling ill Wednesday, said Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, a medical epidemiologist with the health department.
On Thursday, he went to an urgent care facility where he was given antibiotics and told to see a family doctor or hospital if symptoms worsened.
They did. By Friday morning, his parents took him to a local hospital. But the disease had advanced too far for treatment.
Within about an hour, the student died.
We want to assure the family and community we are monitoring this case, and we are making sure those in close contact are taken care of, Mejia-Echeverry told reporters Friday. He later added the parents took proper medical steps: This is nothing anybody can be blamed for.
John Schuster, spokesman for the school district, said school officials are working closely with the health department. Students were given a letter outlining the symptoms and parents received automated phone calls. Its very important for parents to monitor their childrens health, he said.
On average, there are 15 to 20 cases of bacterial meningitis a year in Miami-Dade County, Mejia-Echeverry said.
In the United States, about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, a first-grader who attended Beachside Montessori Village in Hollywood died of meningitis.
Most people who get bacterial meningitis recover.
The disease is transmitted through close contact, primarily exchanging saliva from sharing drinks or cigarette, kissing or living in the same household.
Mejia-Echeverry said it would be virtually impossible to determine when and where the student was infected. It would be like trying to figure out where you got a cold, he said.
In fact, the bacteria lives in the throats of many healthy people who present no symptoms, Mejia-Echeverry said.
Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting or nausea with headache, confusion or difficulty concentrating and sensitivity to light.
The symptoms may occur two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days. Only people who have been in close contact (household members, intimate contacts, etc.) need to be considered for preventive treatment, according to the health department. Casual contact as might occur in a regular classroom, office, or factory setting is not usually significant enough to cause concern.
When the disease does present itself, it can progress rapidly and cause severe complications, like brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities.
There is a treatment, Mejia-Echeverry said, of intravenous antibiotics, usually administered at a hospital.
In this case, the end was tragic.
Late Friday, Miami-Dade police said they were investigating Valdes death at Jackson Memorial Hospital South and that the Medical Examiners office would rule on the cause, though county health officials said the diagnosis was meningitis.