Meningitis Kills Queens School Counselor, Long Island Student

NEW YORK (AP) - A guidance counselor at a Catholic school in Queens has died of bacterial meningitis.

City health officials say the victim was on the faculty at the Saint Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadow. New York City investigators are still looking into whether any relatives or close friends of the victim might have been at risk of contracting the disease, which is contagious but is not spread through casual contact.

A high school student in Massapequa, on Long Island also died from the disease this week.

The student's case of meningococcal meningitis developed so fast that he died within a day of starting to feel sick, relatives and health officials said.

Massapequa High School senior Michael Gruber, 17, took a state Regents exam Wednesday and went to bed with flu-like symptoms that night. By Thursday morning, he so ill he was taken to a local hospital. By Thursday afternoon, he was dead, family members and officials said.

"He went to bed fine, and he woke up dying," aunt Heidi Sacco said.

Acting Nassau County Health Commissioner Abby Greenberg said the bacterial infection is known to progress quickly, but not usually quite so fast.

Gruber was the first person to die of meningococcal meningitis in Nassau County since 2004, Greenberg said. About 300 people nationwide die of the disease every year, and 2,500 are infected, according to the state Health Department.

The illness infects the bloodstream or the meninges, a lining covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include a high fever, headache, vomiting, a stiff neck and a rash.

The germ can be spread by direct, close contact with discharges from an infected person's nose or throat. The county Health Department said it was advising close contacts of Gruber's to get preventive treatment.

The teen played on the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Youth Organization basketball team and worked part-time as a supermarket stock boy, the health department said. He was considering pursuing a law degree, his aunt said.

(From Associated Press reports)