File image

Cape Town -

The deaths of two children in the False Bay area recently have sparked fears of a meningitis outbreak and, although the provincial health department moved to allay concerns and school principals called for calm, preventative medication has been suggested for children who had contact with at least one of the dead.

Eight-year-old Simon Wardall, a Grade 3 pupil at Sun Valley Primary School, died in hospital on Wednesday night. He was diagnosed with Streptococcus pyogenes meningitis.

An unnamed four-year-old, who apparently attended a creche in nearby Capri, died about two weeks ago, but Health Department spokesman Mark van der Heever said no laboratory results or post mortem had been done in this case.

Meanwhile a third child, who attends High Cloud creche in Kommetjie, was treated for meningitis-like symptoms a week ago, according to principal Erin Wilson. However, no diagnosis was confirmed.

She added the boy had been treated with a broad spectrum antibiotic and had been given the all-clear to return to school.

Van der Heever confirmed that Simon’s death was from Streptococcus pyogenes meningitis, a strain that does not spread and does not have the same public health implications and response as meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal meningitis is the most easily spread and fatal bacterial meningitis.

Van der Heever said there was, at this stage, no evidence that the two deaths were related, as no laboratory results or post mortem had been done on the four-year-old.

Gavin Keller, principal of Sun Valley Primary, said they were doing their best to keep parents posted on any developments.

He said Simon’s death was a massive shock for everyone. The school warned parents of a potential meningitis outbreak while doctors worked to determine the cause.

Keller said they had to put out an alert to parents, especially to Simon’s class and his closest friends.

The Health Department had told the school it would be injecting pupils as a precautionary measure, but by 1pm yesterday this was called off after it was confirmed that Simon had died from Streptococcus pyogenes meningitis. Parents of children who had been near Simon from September 12 were, however, advised to take precautionary measures against potential bacterial infection and to get a script for an antibiotic from a doctor or hospital.

Keller said he was not aware of any other children with symptoms, but knew of a four-year-old sibling of another pupil who had died a week before. He had no information about the cause of death.

“But obviously there is concern in the community, with two deaths so close to each other,” he said.

Simon was at school last Friday when, Keller said, his teacher found him “a little down”. He had asked: “Where is my smiley boy?” A week later he was in hospital.

Keller said he was “just the most beautiful, beautiful child in the world”. A celebration of Simon’s life will be held at noon today at his favourite spot, Noordhoek Common.

Keller said residents and parents were concerned at the possibility that the deaths might be linked to an outbreak in the area.

“The local health authorities are investigating further, are alert, and will manage further cases,” Van der Heever said.

Van der Heever said there had been a total 37 cases of meningococcal disease recorded in Cape Town this year.

“Meningococcal disease is a notifiable medical condition. All suspected meningococcal disease should be notified from the health facility by telephone to the local/district department of health, so that follow-up of close contacts is undertaken quickly,” he said.

Warning signs

* Headache

* Fever

* Neck stiffness

* Nausea and vomiting, in some instances

* Some children will not drink anything, could be abnormally sleepy, or difficult to wake

Weekend Argus