West Gadsden student dead after bout with meningitis

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By Angye Morrison

A tenth grade student at West Gadsden High School died Sunday after being hospitalized with meningitis, less than one month prior to his 17th birthday.

Christopher Grande was infected with cryptococcal meningitis, a form of meningitis that is not spread from person to person and does not require the treatment of close contacts, according to a press release from the Gadsden County Health Department. The illness is acquired by inhaling airborne fungal spores.

A native of Los Angeles, Calif., Grande moved to Gadsden County with his family in 2003, and was involved with the soccer team at WGHS, as well as the JROTC.

“The tragedy of losing a child in our close-knit community is both heartwrenching and sobering. We ask that our community be supportive and respectful of the student’s family in their time of mourning,” said Reginald James, Gadsden County Schools superintendent.

Sylvia Jackson, principal at West Gadsden, said Tuesday that Grande’s death came as a “surprise to all of us.” Jackson met with Grande’s mother last week to set up a home study program so that he could continue his studies after he was released from the hospital. Jackson said he had been absent from school since Jan. 6.

“We thought he would get better slowly,” the principal said, adding that teachers at the school who knew Grande all called him a kind and polite young man.

Jackson said informational fliers have been provided to students regarding the type of meningitis Grande had, and a statement was released to students Monday regarding his death.

She also said the crisis team from the school district office was on campus Monday to aid students in the grief process, but said she believed only a couple of students went in for counseling. Most have preferred, instead, to deal with their grief by talking with each other and remembering their classmate in their own way.

“I know that the ROTC class spent time (on Monday) talking about him and discussing the things they would remember about him, since he was so involved in ROTC,” Jackson said.

Students at the school, particularly the JROTC, also initiated an effort to raise funds to help with Grande’s funeral expenses.

Cryptococcal meningitis is a brain infection caused by a fungus known as Cryptococcus neoformas, found worldwide in soil. It is also commonly found in bird or chicken droppings.

People with weak immune systems are usually at a greater risk of being infected with the disease, and people without any known immune system problems have been known to contract the disease.

Signs and symptoms include a severe headache that will not go away, fever, change in mental status or pneumonia-like illness. Cryptococcal meningitis can cause permanent neurologic damage and can lead to death, but the organism is treatable when detected early, using special anti-fungal antibiotics.

People with weakened immune systems should avoid areas that may be contaminated with bird or chicken droppings.

Another type of meningitis is viral meningitis, which is fairly common and usually does not cause serious illness. In severe cases, it can cause prolonged fever and seizures. It is caused by viruses, while bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria. Meningitis can also be caused by other organisms and some medicines, but this is rare.

Bacterial meningitis is not as common, but is quite serious, and must be treated immediately to prevent brain damage and death.

Both types are contagious, and the germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing, sneezing and close contact.

Both kinds of meningitis manifest with the same symptoms for teens and young adults: a stiff and painful neck, fever, headache, vomiting, drowsiness and seizures. Children and older adults may experience different symptoms, such as crankiness, loss of appetite and a rash in babies, cough and trouble breathing in young children, and slight headache and fever in older adults.

Both children and adults should see a doctor immediately if these symptoms are apparent, because only a doctor can tell if the patient has viral or bacterial meningitis.

Treatment of the illness depends on the cause. Bacterial meningitis is typically treated during a hospital stay, where antibiotics will be administered, and the patient will be observed for signs of serious problems such as hearing loss, seizures or brain damage.

For those who contract viral meningitis, the sickness usually lasts about two weeks. For mild cases, home treatment is usually recommended and includes drinking lots of fluids and taking medicine for fever and pain.

To prevent your child from getting viral or bacterial meningitis, make sure he or she has received the standard immunizations for children, which include shots for measles, chickenpox, Haemophilus influenzae typ B (Hib) disease and pneumococcal infection.

Parents should also discuss with their child’s doctor whether the child should receive meningococcal vaccine, a shot to prevent bacterial meningitis. This shot is recommended for adolescents ages 11 and 12, teens 13 to 18 who haven’t had the shot yet, college freshmen living in dormitories, people who plan to travel to countries with known meningitis outbreaks, people without a spleen and people with HIV.

Max Martinez, with the county’s health department, said Tuesday the department will be putting together a presentation for parents and students at West Gadsden, to be held as soon as possible. The event will focus on providing information on the different types of meningitis, as well as prevention and treatment.

A graveside service was held Tuesday for Grande at Hillcrest Cemetery in Quincy. He is survived by his parents, Carlos A. and Mirna Marronqin-Grande of Greensboro; sister, Karla Elizabeth Grande of Greensboro; paternal grandfather Jose Luis Grande of Bristol; and maternal grandparents, Jose Alejandro and Maria Lidia Marroguin.

For more information, call the health department at 875-7200, or go visit the Center for Disease Control’s Web site at www.cdc.gov.