Two boys attending the same Miami daycare center died of meningitis in December.
The Florida Department of Health believes it is, and on Tuesday the agency sent a letter to parents of children at the YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Center Day Care informing them that the boys’ meningitis infections appeared to be unrelated.
“These two unfortunate events appear to have been caused by different bacteria and are therefore unrelated to each other,” Dr. Reynald Jean, the head of epidemiology for the state health department’s office in Miami-Dade, said in the letter.
But an attorney representing the parents of one of the boys, who died in Belize on Dec. 10, called the health department’s conclusion premature because the agency failed to get laboratory confirmation of the boys’ meningitis diagnoses.
“The Department of Health seems to be solely concerned with closing this investigation as quickly as possible,” Todd Michaels said in an email.
“It remains too coincidental that two young boys in the same school would die of the same rare communicable disease within a week of each other to simply close the book on the matter and not perform a full investigation,” he said.
Connor Mincey, a 22-month-old boy, died on Dec. 3 after initially receiving a diagnosis of pneumonia before doctors in Miami concluded it was meningitis.
A second child from the YWCA daycare, a 2-year-old boy who has not been identified, died Dec. 10 after he, too, was diagnosed with pneumonia. The boy’s autopsy report from Belize, however, indicates he died of meningitis, Michaels said.
Both children were up to date on their vaccinations. The YWCA daycare center closed Dec. 12 after the deaths of the two boys but reopened on Dec. 26 — about five days before the health department announced it had closed an investigation into the root cause of the boys’ infections.
Health department officials said they closed the investigation because they hadn’t been able to obtain confirmation from Belize on the cause of death. But Michaels, the attorney, said he had the boy’s autopsy report. He sent a copy to the state on Feb. 6, after the Miami Herald reported that the state had closed its investigation.
The following day, health department epidemiologists reviewed the report, which the agency said indicates the presence of a different strain of bacterial meningitis than the first child, Connor.
Connor was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis, which is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, according to the health department’s letter.
The second child’s autopsy report from Belize states that a bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can also cause meningitis, was present in the boy’s cerebral spinal fluid.
“As both types of bacteria are commonly found either on people (Streptococcus pneumoniae) or in the environment (Pseudomonas aeruginosa), EDC-IS [the agency’s Epidemiology, Disease Control and Immunization Services unit] is unable to determine how each infection was acquired,” the health department’s letter to parents said.
But Michaels said the health department is relying solely on the autopsy reports and has yet to confirm the boys’ diagnoses through its own laboratory testing.
Connor’s meningitis was diagnosed by doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, according to his family’s attorneys.
The second child’s tissue samples were sent to Trinidad from Belize for laboratory testing, according to Michaels, and he is still waiting for the results.
Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the health department, said the agency tried to get a sample of the first child’s bacteria forwarded to a state lab for testing.
“Unfortunately the specimen was gone and we were never able to obtain it,” Gambineri said in an email, adding that the agency relied on tests ordered by Connor’s doctors to confirm the diagnosis.
Gambineri said the health department also worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to obtain samples from Belize for the second child. The two agencies even offered to help officials in Belize with testing, she said.
“Those attempts were not successful,” Gambineri said, though she didn’t specify what had happened.
Michaels said the health department never tried hard enough to obtain blood or tissue samples for testing.
“They never so much as picked up a phone to talk to the people who did the testing,” he said. “Instead, they relied on two different reports, from two different countries, compiled using different methodologies.”