Student hospitalized 10 weeks after friend died of encephalitis

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An Anchorage middle-school student has been hospitalized with inflamation of the brain, 10 weeks after another student from the same school died of a similar condition.

Both students had symptoms consistent with viral encephalitis, according to school and public health officials. They stressed, however, that there is no evidence other students at Mears Middle School are at risk.

The school district sent a letter to parents and posted a message on its Web site Wednesday saying that tests are still being done on the hospitalized student. The Web statement said the student ''does not have a contagious illness that can be spread to others.''

Eighth-grader Chad Bax died Sept. 16.

The other student's name has not been released. But Joy Bax, Chad's mother, said the student is an eighth-grade girl and was a close friend of her son's.

In addition, health officials are reviewing the case of a third Mears eighth-grader who was hospitalized this fall with a serious, but different, neurological ailment. Jeremy Oaks had a suspected meningococcal infection, said his mother, Christine Teel.

Meningoccus bacteria can cause potentially deadly meningitis, the inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Oaks was hospitalized for six weeks at Providence Alaska Medical Center -- where Bax was treated and the other student is undergoing care.

Teel said she got a call Monday from the school nurse at Mears, telling her she might want to know about the girl who was sick. Teel said the girl's locker is next to Jeremy's.

Health officials said they don't know why the three students, who live within one-half mile of each other and have the same friends and classes, have contracted rare neurological ailments.

Encephalitis is not a disease but a condition that can be triggered by a number of viruses or bacteria, health authorities said.

Dr. Beth Funk, state medical epidemiologist, said people can have the same disease and show different symptoms.

''We're looking at these carefully to see if there's a connection but have no real red flags they are, except that they're from the same school,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News.

An extra nurse will be on staff this week to help answer questions from parents and students, said Carol Comeau, school district superintendent.

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