Fayetteville Teen Dies After Contracting Meningitis

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A NorthWest Arkansas Community College student from Fayetteville died Sunday after contracting meningococcal meningitis, according to a statement released by the school Monday.

The community college was notified of the student's death by the Benton and Washington County Health Departments, according to the statement.

Conner Burchfield, 18, died at a hospital in Springfield, Mo. Burchfield's parents were present at the student's death.

Administrators are identifying and contacting students and staff who may have come into close contact with the student who died, according to NWACC's communication office.

Steven Hinds, executive director of public relations and marketing, said the health departments informed the school that the student would have been contagious on or after Nov. 12.

"While he wasn't in class on that day, he was in one of our computer labs November the 13th," Hinds said.

NWACC had people clean high-traffic areas as well as the computer lab.

"We have wiped down the computer lab with disinfecting antibacterial wipes, as directed by the health department," Hinds said.

All members of the school community were notified of the death Monday afternoon and were asked by NWACC to seek medical attention if they were experiencing serious flu-like symptoms.

"First I found out through a student. Then I read my email," said first-year student Maricsa Ramirez, 18. "I mean, I was shocked. It's really sad."

Biology student Jose Polanco, 19, said he didn't know what meningitis was, but was glad the school let him know.

"If the school thought it was going to be something that could affect other students, they would have already taken action and not had class," Polanco said.

The word spread through campus quickly.

"Everybody needs to know about it," said first-year student Courtney Blackston.

"It's not something to joke around about. It's not something to joke around about. It's serious. If you take precautions, it can be handled," Blackston said.

Students such as Diego Mariscal saw some of the cleaning process.

"Sanitizing on the doors and everywhere. I felt safer by that," Mariscal said.

The statement also sent a message to the student's parents.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the student, his family and friends during this difficult time," Provost Steven Gates said in the statement.

Meningococcal meningitis is the bacterial form of meningitis, separate from viral meningitis. It is a serious infection that affects the brain membrane. Bacterial meningitis can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in half of all cases if left untreated, according to the World Health Organization.

The illness can be transmitted from person-to-person through kissing, sneezing, coughing, sharing the same utensils or being in the same close quarters with someone infected, the WHO states.

The most common symptoms involve a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. Even if the disease is caught early, it can cause death within 48 hours for 5 to 10 percent of those infected.

Treatment usually involves antibiotics and a lumbar puncture, the World Health Organization states.

The following is the entire statement released by NorthWest Arkansas Community College:

NWACC Responds to Meningitis Case

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (November 19, 2012) – Officials at NorthWest Arkansas Community College were contacted today by the Benton and Washington County Health Departments about a student who had contracted a meningococcal infection (meningitis). We are saddened to have learned that the student passed away yesterday evening, November 18th.

School officials are in the process of identifying and contacting those individuals who may have come into close contact with the student.

As a matter of prevention and cooperation, all students, faculty, and staff members were notified this afternoon and were asked to take precautionary measures and to seek medical attention if they are experiencing serious flu-like symptoms, which are defined by the Arkansas Department of Health as “fever, intense headache, irritability or listlessness, vomiting and rash.”

College officials are also in the process of disinfecting high-traffic areas and those known to have been visited by the student.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the student, his family, and friends during this difficult time,” said Dr. Steven Gates, Senior Vice President for Learning and Provost.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College is a public two-year institution that serves and strengthens its surrounding communities in Benton and Washington counties. For more information, visit www.nwacc.edu.