Preschooler dies from rare infection

By SHARON SALYER and ERIC STEVICK

Herald Writers

ARLINGTON — A 4-year-old Arlington girl who joined her preschool classmates on a field trip to a fire station Wednesday abruptly died 24 hours later from bacterial infection.

"At this point, there’s no reason to think there are any other cases at the preschool," Dr. Jo Hofmann, director of communicable disease control for the Snohomish Health District, said Friday evening.

Initially, health officials thought the child had been stricken with meningococcal meningitis, and about 50 fellow preschoolers and school staff were given antibiotics Friday by health district employees to prevent its spread.

Test results received late Friday afternoon, however, confirmed that she had contracted a disease in the same bacterial family, streptococcus pneumoniae, sometimes called pneumococcus. It can cause a variety of illnesses, including blood infections, which may have caused the death of the Arlington preschooler.

"I would rather give a bunch of kids (antibiotics) and find out they don’t need it than to not give it and wish I had," Hofmann said.

Symptoms of the two diseases are very similar, the health district official said, including high fever, and in young children, irritability and sometimes a rash, stiff neck or earache.

Hofmann declined to identify the youngster, as did officials of Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, where she was treated Thursday afternoon.

The girl was a student in the school district’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, a state-funded preschool for families that qualify.

The Arlington program, which is housed in a building near Arlington High School, will close several days early and not reopen until after the new year.

The youngster was in school the day before she died, joining classmates and staff on a field trip to a nearby fire station.

"She was skipping on the way," said Linda Byrnes, the school district superintendent.

At the fire station, she enjoyed sitting in the cab of a fire engine.

The student started feeling bad that afternoon, said Catherine Russell, the school district spokeswoman.

A counselor was available Friday for parents of other children in the class, as was a representative from the Snohomish Health District.

"It has been very hard on the staff," Russell said. "We are making sure we have support for our staff, too."

The preschooler was brought to the Arlington hospital’s emergency room Thursday afternoon by her mother and pronounced dead shortly thereafter, hospital officials said.

It is unusual for children to die from the bacterial infection contracted by the local 4-year-old young girl.

"I think people need to realize this is a very unfortunate situation, but also extremely rare," Hofmann said.

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