A Cowlitz County infant died Sunday in a Portland hospital after she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, but officials said the case is unlikely to be contagious.

The infant, whose identity was not disclosed, developed a fever last Tuesday and was taken to St. John Medical Center before being taken to Doernbecker Children’s Hospital, where she died.

Dr. Alan Melnick, a health officer with the Cowlitz County Health Department, said the infant was diagnosed “pretty quickly” after a receiving a spinal tap, which tests spinal fluid for increased white blood cell counts and protein and sugar levels.

Melnick said he could not release specific details of the case — including her age and residence — to protect the family’s privacy.

“The family’s so distraught. I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” Melnick said Monday. “It’s the most horrible tragedy you can think of.”

Bacterial meningitis is a form of meningococcal meningitis, which infects the lining of the brain and spinal cord. It is spread through respiratory and throat secretions, such as saliva and secretions from a runny nose.

Melnick said the infant’s type of meningitis is not contagious like other illnesses, such as a cold. Only people who had close contact with the child and her body fluids, like family members, are vulnerable to infection.

“It’s not super contagious, like measles. You’re not going to walk down the street and get it,” Melnick said. “But even if you were to contract the bug, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get sick.”

He added that many people can harbor germs that cause meningitis, but it is rare that they develop into a serious illness.

The child was not in day care, so only family members who were exposed were notified and given antibiotics. The family must wait up to 10 days after they were exposed to be declared free of any symptoms of meningitis.

Meningitis is particularly difficult to diagnose in infants, because they can’t complain about symptoms, Melnick said.

Infants with bacterial meningitis typically have high fever and are more lethargic. A purple rash may also develop. Any changes in normal behavior should also cause concern, Melnick said.

This is the second case of meningitis reported in Cowlitz County within the past three months. A 10-year-old Woodland girl, Elianna Neumann, was diagnosed with viral meningitis in September after she developed a sore throat. Elianna was treated at Doernbecker. She recovered enough to go home in October.

Lyxan Toledanes covers health and social services for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2586 or ltoledanes@tdn.com.

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