Virginia health officials were reaching out yesterday to anyone who may have had punch at a graduation party attended by an Alexandria teenager who died Thursday, possibly from meningitis.
Kelley Swanson, 18, died after becoming ill during a graduation trip to a beach in North Carolina with classmates from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.
Although the cause of Swanson's death has not been determined, officials have said she was exhibiting symptoms of meningitis, which is spread through close contact.
Officials said yesterday that Swanson and at least two dozen other people attended a private graduation party June 21 in Alexandria where guests were drinking from a punch bowl.
Instead of using a ladle, officials said, guests were reportedly dipping their cups directly into the bowl to get drinks, and bacteria could have spread.
"It's compelling enough that we need to get in touch with people at the party," said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health. "I can't say everyone at the party would be at risk, but we do want to hear from them and are in the process of contacting them."
Officials continue to recommend that anyone who had close contact with Swanson take antibiotics as a precaution.
Health officials were also investigating a report from a student who was on the beach trip in Salvo, N.C., and phoned to say she had been experiencing a fever. The student planned to see a doctor yesterday.
Some of the bacteria that can cause meningitis are contagious and can be spread through droplets from one person to another -- by sharing drinks, cigarettes, toothbrushes or silverware and by coughing or kissing.
People infected with meningococcal bacteria may have a sudden onset of serious symptoms of meningitis or bloodstream infections. Common symptoms of meningitis in anyone older than 2 are high fever, headache and stiff neck. These symptoms can develop over several hours or may take one or two days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness.
Early diagnosis of the illness is very important, officials said.
Beach week, though not an organized school event, is a T.C. Williams tradition in which seniors rent beach houses together after graduation. About 40 teenagers and their chaperons left last Saturday, the day after the ceremony, for what was to be a week-long trip.
On Wednesday, Swanson complained of nausea and weakness and was taken to a nearby hospital. She died a few hours later.
Alexandria parents received calls the next day to come pick up their children in North Carolina.
Swanson was described by friends and relatives as an avid soccer player who helped students with disabilities play the sport. She and her twin sister were in the honors society and planned to attend Virginia Tech.