A 15-year-old boy on Monday became the third Chantilly High School sophomore to be hospitalized with meningitis-like symptoms, but the Fairfax County health director said yesterday that a preliminary analysis of his spinal fluid "suggested a picture that is not consistent with meningitis."
Health director Gloria Addo-Ayensu said the initial test showed different results from tests conducted on two 16-year-old girls from Chantilly High, one of whom died of viral meningitis last week. Follow-up lab work on all three cases is being done, she added.
The 15-year-old boy, who is recovering, reported no "physical contact with the other two known cases at Chantilly High School," according to a statement released by the Fairfax County Health Department.
In addition to those incidents, a teacher from Armstrong Elementary in Reston was hospitalized Friday with viral meningitis. A 12-year-old Chantilly boy who attended Franklin Middle School died suddenly of an unknown illness Thursday, but county health officials said they do not believe that meningitis was the cause. Autopsy results may be released as early as this week.
Meanwhile, doctors released Chantilly High sophomore Kelly Edwards from Inova Fairfax Hospital yesterday after a five-day stay for viral meningitis -- an ordeal her mother, Carrie, called "terrifying." The girl was hospitalized Thursday, the same day classmate Courtney "Kay" Richard died of the disease.
Carrie Edwards said that her daughter and Richard sat next to each other in Spanish class and that she did not find out that Richard was seriously ill until her daughter told her Thursday after she came home from the class's final exam.
Already, her daughter had mentioned that she had a headache and a stiff neck, two symptoms of viral meningitis, Edwards said. They rushed to the hospital.
Some parents and at least one school official have complained that the Health Department has been too guarded in releasing information about the cases.
Edwards said she was angry at health officials for not informing parents sooner of Richard's illness.
"At this point, more information is better instead of saying nothing," she said. "The fact is one [student] has already died, and they need to realize that the more informed parents are, the quicker they can respond."
Tammy Turner, principal of Chantilly High, where the school year ended Friday, said that until the day Richard died, "we had no notification, we really had no idea what she was ill from."
"That's what's frustrating to us -- we have to rely on the Health Department," she said. "It's very frustrating that we are not getting all the information that we need to."
But Addo-Ayensu as well as the school system's spokeswoman, Kitty Porterfield, urged patience.
"We are all expressing frustration. The doctors, I'm sure, are just as frustrated. It's just that this is the way that medical issues play out," Porterfield said. "We are still waiting for the tests to come back."
Many parents said they heard the news long before the school system announced it. Catherine Fratter, a Chantilly mother of four, said children were online, instant-messaging each other about the death as early as Thursday night. The president of the PTA also sent out a note to its board Thursday night, several members said.
"I didn't hear anything from the school system," Fratter said.
Some parents said they are so concerned about the meningitis outbreak that they are checking their children's inoculation records and, in some cases, having children vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, a different and usually more serious disease.
Others said they are making "just-in-case" visits to the doctor. The Hoover family is going today so that 17-year-old Kandice can be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis.
Her mother, Hannah Hoover, an active PTA parent, said she made the appointment as soon as she heard about Richard's death. As she became aware of other cases, she became more frightened, she said. "Now that it seems to be multiple, it's kind of getting scary," Hoover said. "This is becoming increasingly alarming."
On Monday night, dozens of Richard's classmates attended a memorial service to honor the popular 16-year-old, parents said.
"My daughter was on debate team with her, the Lincoln-Douglas debaters," said Carl Cecil, father of two children at the high school. Richard, he added, "was one of the best on the team."
His daughter, Claire, who will be a sophomore, is scheduled to be vaccinated this month, Cecil said.