CDC confirms Central Catholic student died of meningococcal bloodstream infection

March 20, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported late Friday that Central Catholic High student Jacob Parkhurst died of meningococcal disease.

The CDC reported to doctors at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel that Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria causing meningococcal bloodstream infection, was detected in Parkhurst’s blood samples.

The Catholic Central junior died March 4 after a brief, critical illness. The symptoms were highly suggestive of meningococcal disease and led to the request for additional testing by the CDC.

“We hope this finding provides important information for the family and a rational explanation to the broader community about this sudden and unfortunate death,’’ said Dr. Paul Lewis, Health Officer for Clackamas and Multnomah Counties. “We thank the CDC and Oregon State Public Health Division for their help and wish to express our condolences to his family and friends.”

Neiserria meningitidis causes bloodstream infection known as sepsis and meningitis, an infection of the brain's covering. Meningococcal disease is rare but serious. The death rate among reported cases is 10 to 15 percent. Cases are slightly more common among young children and adolescents.

While this bacteria can be found in the nose and throat of many people, illness is very rare and the bacteria are not found in other animals or in the environment. Nearly 100 percent of cases are sporadic which means there is no link to other illnesses. No other instances of illness associated with this case have been reported. Antibiotics to prevent meningococcal disease are only recommended for individuals with prolonged face-to-face contact with an ill individual.

Clackamas County Public Health Department contacted friends and family of Parkhurst immediately after his illness was reported. The investigation of close contacts was completed on March 5.

In the 1990s, the state of Oregon had rates of meningococcal infection more than three times the national average with as many as 136 cases in a single year. Since then, rates of infection have gradually returned to the national average and only 13 cases were reported in Oregon in 2013, including two deaths.

A vaccine would not have affected this case. This, and about half of all cases in Oregon are caused by a type, serogroup B, that is not included in the currently approved vaccines in the United States. However, half of the meningococcal cases in the state might be prevented by a vaccine that is currently recommended for all at age 11 or 12 with a booster shot at age 16.

"Even though this infection could not have been prevented, Jake's parents want other parents to know that the vaccine would prevent more than half the meningococcal cases in Oregon,’’ said Dr. Ann Loeffler, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Legacy Health. “Please talk to your provider about vaccinating your teen.”