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McHenry County meningitis deaths unrelated

CRYSTAL LAKE – Rosalyn Hayes thought her 27-year-old daughter had the flu when she woke up the morning of March 12 with nausea and body aches.

By later that evening, Whitney Hayes, of Crystal Lake, had died at the hospital. An autopsy by the McHenry County coroner confirmed that Hayes died from a rare form of meningitis.

The family held a memorial service last week for Hayes, a Prairie Ridge High School graduate who worked as a nanny while living with her mom. Family and friends remembered her for her compassion and loving spirit, Rosalyn Hayes said.

"She put other people first, a very outgoing and great personality," Rosalyn Hayes said. "Everyone said she had the most beautiful smile. She was artistic and fun. Her smile lit up the room."

The rare bacteria type – called neisseria meningitidis – has been reported to the McHenry County Department of Health only two other times since 2009. The type of bacteria is commonly spread through coughing, sneezing and kissing among a larger population living in close quarters, such as a college dorm.

After receiving the latest report, the department provided antibiotics to preventably treat Rosalyn Hayes and the hospital personnel that tried to save Whitney Hayes.

Local health officials have said the isolated incident doesn't pose a greater risk to the county, while the Hayes family doesn't know exactly how Whitney Hayes acquired the communicable disease.

The incident was the first of two deaths associated with a meningitis. In the past 10 days, a different meningitis bacteria – streptococcus pneumonia – killed a 33-year-old McHenry woman, said Coroner Anne Majewski.

The two meningitis deaths are coincidental and in no way connected, Majewski said. The two incidents would be like comparing "the whooping cough to the measles," said Marylou Ludicky, communicable disease coordinator for the county health department.

Both deaths, however, happened during the time of year when meningitis cases start to increase.

"Spring is traditionally the time of year where there are slightly more numbers of meningitis," Ludicky said.

A different strain of neisseria meningitidis than the one that killed Whitney Hayes is responsible for recent, unrelated outbreaks at Princeton University and the University of California-Santa Barbara, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

General meningitis symptoms include nausea, body aches, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, fever, vomiting and mental confusion. Vaccines also can prevent the disease, Ludicky said.

A meningitis vaccine is recommended at age 12 and a booster shot is recommended after the age of 16, she said.

"If they are showing symptoms, they need to go to the emergency room immediately," Ludicky said. "It's also important to let people know that this is a vaccine-preventable disease."

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