Officials say cause of boy's death uncertain Test was not done to confirm meningitis

March 13, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Howard County health officials say that they will never know for sure whether meningitis killed an 8-year-old Worthington Elementary School student this month, but that whatever caused his death did not infect any other children at the school.

Dr. Joyce Boyd, county health officer, said the only way to determine if Steven Chilton died of meningitis March 1 would be to test spinal fluid taken from his body.

No spinal fluid was obtained, Boyd said.

But she said that whether Steven died from a strep infection or meningitis -- both possibilities given the boy's high fever and other symptoms -- the incubation period when either ailment would have spread to other children has ended.

She said the strep infection would have spread to others in contact with Steven within three to four days. Bacterial meningitis -- a fast-moving, contagious infection that health authorities initially feared killed the boy -- would have spread within 10 days, she said.

"The incubation periods are long past for either of them," Boyd said.

She said a throat culture taken from the boy at Howard County General Hospital showed signs of "light growth strep."

But she said those test results serve only as an indicator that it was "possibly a strep infection."

"What we know is, he died of an overwhelming infection. Beyond that we don't know," Boyd said.

Steven was treated for about two hours at Howard County General Hospital for a high fever March 1 before he was flown by helicopter to Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric intensive care unit in Baltimore, where he died that night.

Doctors who treated Steven at Howard County General found no evidence of meningitis in samples of his blood that a physician examined under a microscope, according to hospital officials.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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