Health officials begin tracking for possible infection in others

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The death of a first-grader from bacterial meningitis has set in motion a process through which Vicksburg Warren School District officials plan to identify other children who may have been exposed.

Vshanti Washington, a student at Dana Road Elementary, died Sunday at 4:13 a.m. at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at the University Medical Center in Jackson.

“This morning we began to collect class rolls, seating charts and bus information,” Superintendent Dr. James Price said. The district was readying all data for health department official Dr. Mary Armstrong, MDOH district 5 health officer, who was in Vicksburg this morning and said an estimated six people at the schools will need to be treated. She did not identify them but said each would have been in contact with Vshanti for three hours or more. They were to receive Rifampin, an antibiotic, for two days.

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Symptoms include high fever, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck and discomfort with bright lights. Any person, child or adult, with those indicators should seek immediate medical attention.

An autopsy Monday revealed that Vshanti had streptococcus bacterial meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain, said Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey. He ordered the autopsy when the cause of death could not be pinpointed Sunday. Results were released late Monday afternoon.

If diagnosed, the illness responds to treatment with antibiotics. There are also precautionary treatments. The death rate is 5 percent to 15 percent in known cases.

State health department officials will be in charge of determining who needs precautionary treatments, Price said, but the district will assist. “We have people in place to do that and will plug names into our automated calling systems as soon as they have been identified. We’ll provide whatever they need,” he said.

Extra nurses are also on hand at the school.

School staffers took calls from a number of parents this morning as news of Vshanti’s death and its cause spread.

Vshanti’s class included 21 other students, one teacher and one teacher’s assistant, Price said. Ridership on her bus was also being analyzed. Cafeteria exposure was not expected to be a concern because Vshanti generally went through the line with her teacher, Price said.

Vshanti was kept home from school Friday with sniffles and a low-grade fever, her aunt, Valtreasa Cook said today. Concerned about swine flu reports, family members took her to the doctor. “In a matter of hours she went from asking her grandmother about getting a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s to being on life support,” Cook said.

Vshanti’s was the second death of a student in the three weeks since school started. On Aug. 7, Olivia J. McMillan, a sophomore at Warren Central High School who was about to celebrate her 15th birthday, died when a tree fell on the section of her home where she was sleeping.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at