Carrissa Price’s illness started as though she simply had the flu.
But the 3-year-old’s condition quickly took a deadly turn, as meningococcal disease ravaged her body.
Deadly toxins shut off the blood supply to her extremities, killing the tissue and forcing doctors to amputate her left hand, her left foot, her right arm and her right leg in three separate operations.
On May 28, “it started off like she had the flu,” Carrissa’s mother, Zenita Price, told The Oregonian newspaper in an interview published Monday.
“I gave her Tylenol and noticed the purple spot under her left eye. But I thought it was an insect bite.”
Two hours later, the child’s breath was short, her eyes had glazed over and a rash of purple spots covered her stomach and arms.
Price rushed Carrissa to Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, where she received emergency treatment before being transferred across the Columbia River to Emanuel Hospital in Portland.
For the next 24 hours, physicians fought to keep her alive.
A massive dose of antibiotics arrested the disease, but tissue damage to her arms and legs was so severe that doctors were forced to amputate.
Over the next several months, doctors expect to graft skin on what remains of Carrissa’s limbs and then fit her with prosthetics.
“I’d like to eventually get a companion dog for her, but they are so expensive,” Price said. “Right now, I just want to see that smile back on her face.”
Carrissa is the 10th case of meningococcal disease reported in Washington’s Clark County this year.
Since 1994, the county has recorded 70 cases, including six deaths. In the same period, there were 111 cases of the disease and eight deaths reported in the city of Portland. More than 60 percent of the cases occurred in children under 10.
Clark County health officials say the large number of cases is alarming.
“Normally in the U.S., we would see one or two cases per 100,000 population,” said Dr. Karen Steingart, health officer with Southwest Washington Health District. “But in 1994 in Clark County, with a population of about 300,000, we saw 25.”
One possible explanation for the outbreak could be a low resistance in the area to a new strain of meningococcus, according to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
If detected early, the disease, which infects the bloodstream, is treatable with antibiotics. Untreated, it can kill in hours.
Health authorities urge parents to become aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek treatment immediately if symptoms occur.
“Timing is everything, especially those first few hours,” said Dr. Jim Lindsay, a pediatrician at Emanuel specializing in the treatment of the illness.
“Symptoms can be much like flu, but if there’s a high fever and listlessness, parents will want to seek medical advice.”
Price’s warning comes in the voice of experience:
“Parents need to know that their kids are so vulnerable,” she said. “One day, they are playing in your arms, and the next they can be here fighting for their life.”
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