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Third Death Tied to Same Illness

Ventura County's public health chief says a meningitis-type infection killed two children and a young man in recent weeks.

January 13, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A third Ventura County death reported in the past month has been linked to a fast-acting bacterial infection similar to meningitis, according to the county's top health official.

Public Health Officer Robert Levin confirmed that a child died last week at a Santa Barbara County hospital of meningococcemia, a type of blood poisoning.

His office alerted area physicians late last month that meningococcemia caused two recent deaths.

The first victim was 11-year-old Alexander Nathaniel Gomez of Oxnard, who died Dec. 21. The second victim, Thomas Kent, 19, of Ventura, died Christmas morning.

On Thursday, the Santa Barbara County coroner's office identified the latest victim as 4-year-old Luis Fernando Vasquez of Port Hueneme, who died Jan. 6 after several hours at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara.

"With what exploration we've done, we haven't found any connection to the other victims," Levin said.

Although it had been about three years since a county resident died of meningococcemia, Levin is not concerned about an epidemic.

"This is still well within numbers that we see as sporadic," he said. "These are individual and unrelated cases."

As a precaution, those who came in contact with the three victims were treated with antibiotics to reduce their chance of contracting the illness.

Meningococcemia is an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which also can lead to meningitis -- the inflammation of membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

An estimated 5% to 15% of the U.S. population carry the bacterium in their noses and throats but have no symptoms.

The disease, which produces severe flu-like symptoms coupled with a rash, a stiff neck or fainting, is spread via saliva or respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes.

Each year, about 3,000 Americans contract meningococcal disease -- a variety of brain, spinal and blood infections that includes meningitis.

About 300 cases are fatal.

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