Thursday, December 07, 2000

Rare infection mimicking flu kills Hamilton girl, 8

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — E'Laysha Collins, 8, awakened Tuesday and seemed to be suffering from the same flulike symptoms that afflicted her brothers a few days earlier: fever, aches and vomiting.

        So her stepmother, Vickie Jester, wasn't too worried when she tucked the girl in bed Tuesday evening, beneath her favorite blanket, a pink Barbie comforter.

        “I told her I loved her and asked her if she would be all right,” Ms. Jester said. “She said yes, she just wanted to sleep.”

        Hours later, the little girl nicknamed “Lay-Lay” was dead.

        She died from a rare infection that can be contagious to others in close or prolonged contact.

        “This is the diagnosis that, as a doctor, you pray you don't miss. Because if you do, your patient can be dead in 12 to 24 hours,” Dr. Richard P. Burkhardt, Butler County coroner, said Wednesday. He performed an autopsy that revealed that meningococcemia, a bacterial invasion of the bloodstream, caused E'Laysha's death.

   Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. While viral meningitis generally goes away without specific treatment, bacterial meningitis can cause brain damage, hearing loss or death.
   The bacteria can spread by coughing or kissing, but are not spread by casual contact nor by simply breathing the air where an infected person has been. Still, the bacteria can spread to those with close or prolonged contact with an infected person.
   Symptoms may include high fever, headache, stiff neck, vomiting and a rash-like appearance on the skin. Immediate medical attention is needed.
   Nationally, about 2,500 cases of meningococcal infections are reported each year, with a fatality rate of about 12 percent. In Ohio last year, there were 134 reported cases. The count in local counties: Butler, 5; Clermont, 2; Hamilton, 6; Warren, 1.
       Sources: Ohio Department of Health, Butler County Coroner's Office

        While E'Laysha's schoolmates at Harrison Elementary in Hamilton or others who had contact with an infected person are thought to be at low risk for contracting the illness, health officials are advising the public to seek immediate medical attention if symptoms occur. Because their risk of illness is higher, E'Laysha's parents and nine siblings who lived with her in the 300 block of Charles Street are being treated with preventive antibiotics.

        “People shouldn't be in a panic. This is a very unusual occurrence,” said Susan Irvine, nursing administrator for the Hamilton Health Department.

        That agency had just one similar case of meningitis this year, involving a 4-month-old child whose illness in September was nonfatal, Ms. Irvine said.

        E'Laysha's father, Clarence Johnson, 42, said he never heard of such an illness killing a child so quickly. “I really can't understand that Marcus and Eddie (two of E'Laysha's brothers) had the same thing, and they're still here — but she isn't.”

        Mr. Johnson's fiancee, Ms. Jester, said E'Laysha was petite and didn't eat as much as she should — perhaps making her weaker and more susceptible to the illness.

        Also described as “a little lady who loved to play dress-up,” E'Laysha was the most joyful among the 10 children in their household, Ms. Jester said.

        E'Laysha's aunt, Anna Johnson of Bond Hill, warned parents: “If you think your baby has the flu, take her to the hospital and let a doctor tell that to you. You don't want to lose your baby like we did.”


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