Central Catholic student dies of apparent meningococcal disease

Credit: Ashley Korslien, KGW Staff

Central Catholic student dies of apparent meningococcal disease


by Jeff Thompson and Cornelius Swart, KGW Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews


Posted on March 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 6 at 6:44 AM

PORTLAND -- A 17-year-old Central Catholic High School student has died of what may have been meningococcal disease.

According to a family statement, Jake Parkhurst died peacefully at about 7 p.m. Tuesday, surrounded by his friends and family members. Two days earlier, he had joked on social media about having a fever of 102 degrees.

Health officials hoped to know by the end of the week what caused Parkhurst's death, but said they might never fully know, according to Dr. Paul Lewis, health officer for Clackamas and Multnomah counties.

"Because of his sudden, severe illness he was given a large dose of antibiotics on the way to the hospital," Lewis said at a Portland press conference Wednesday. He said the antibiotics will make it difficult to reach a precise diagnosis.

Lewis said the Parkhurst symptoms fell broadly into the category of "severe bacterial infection."

Central Catholic sent out a bulletin Tuesday saying one of its students was in critical condition and meningococcal disease was likely the cause.

"It is important to note that you do not need to take any action unless you have been contacted by the Health Department," the statement read. "Health care professionals are determining who in our population might be at an elevated risk of contracting the disease, and will be contacting those individuals to implement preventative measures."

The school also said counselors were on hand Wednesday to talk with students affected by the news.

"As for our students, we are providing safe spaces for them to grieve, our chapel currently, and have counselors and administrators in the classes the student would have attended today," principal John Garrow told KGW Wednesday morning.

"I think our fortunate circumstance, if you can even say that, is that we are a faith-based community so we have that built in to what we do on a regular basis,” he added.

Grief-stricken students and empathetic onlookers expressed their feelings about Parkhurst's death on social media on Wednesday.

More: Community honors Portland teen killed by sudden illness

Lewis said Monday that the infection was not highly contagious like, say, whooping cough.

"There were 30 cases in 2012 and 13 in 2013," Lewis said. "We're looking at a disease that effects one in 100,000."

However, he noted that the infection is more likely to spread in groups of closely confined people and that about a dozen families who may have been in contact with Parkhurst had been advised to take a single dose of antibiotics as a precaution.

Click for more on meningococcal disease from Oregon.gov