Parents, students mourn teacher's death from illness

February 1, 2011 12:47:27 AM PST
Parents and students are mourning the sudden death of a popular teacher at a Palo Alto elementary school. A bacterial infection is believed to be the cause of death and because of that precautions are being taken to protect his students.

"It's just hard to overcome his passing away," says student Anita Mukherjee.

Mukherjee is a 5th grader at Hoover Elementary School in Palo Alto. She learned this morning that her beloved teacher, 43-year-old George Flath, died suddenly over the weekend.

"It seems like it is fake and you can't believe it," says student Mukherjee.

School administrators say Flath had a cold on Friday, but felt well enough to come to work. Then on Saturday, Flath developed a high fever, and died at the hospital the next day. Public health officers suspect meningococcal disease -- a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream.

"This is certainly a shock. Nobody anticipated this at all. He wasn't ill that you would have been worried about his health," says Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers.

Public health officers say the chances the disease was passed onto a student are extremely low considering the bacteria can only be transmitted through close prolonged contact. Even so, the public health department distributed a letter to parents of all grades informing them the risks of infection. And parents of students in Mr. Flath's class were given antibiotics to give to their children just in case.

"If someone gets ill with this infection, they can become so sick and it's so scary for people around, it's really important to get the information out to the families so that they understand," says Deputy Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

Suvasis Mukherjee plans to give his daughter the antibiotics, but for the most part he's not worried.

"For the disease to spread it needs a lot of contact. I don't think we had that kind of contact with Mr. Flath," says Mukherjee.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department says the cause of death won't be confirmed for at least a few more days. The department is waiting for lab results.