C A N T O N, Ohio, June 6, 2001 -- A decision to inoculate 5,800 students andstaff from six area high schools because of a meningitis-relatedoutbreak helped ease the fears of some parents.
The Ohio Department of Health decided Tuesday to initiate thestate's first large-scale immunization program in nearby Allianceas a precaution after two students died in May and a third becameseriously ill.
Sick Girl Has Same Meningitis Strain
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmedtoday that the third student, Christin VanCamp, 18, had thesame strain of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis that led to thedeaths of the students, spokesman Tom Skinner said.
Health officials originally planned not to make a decision onwhether to vaccinate until test results came back from the thirdvictim.
Meanwhile, a hot line set up to answer questions from residentsreceived hundreds of calls throughout the night, with the only lulloccurring between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., authorities said.
"Our job is to err on the side of conservatism," said NickBaird, the health department's director.
"It's just better to be on the safe side for everyone," saidCarol Reese, whose 16-year-old son attends Alliance High School."It's good for people who are afraid for their children, and Ithink it will make life a little easier for them."
Beloit West Branch High School students Jonathan Stauffer, 15,and Kelly Coblentz, 16, died within three days in late May afterbeing stricken with a blood infection caused by the deadlybacteria.
On Saturday, VanCamp, a senior at nearby Marlington High School,was diagnosed with the same kind of infection. She remainedhospitalized today in Akron and is expected to recover. She hadbecome infected after attending calling hours for one of the deadteens.
Nationwide, meningitis immunization campaigns occur three tofour times a year, Skinner said. He said the size of Ohio's massimmunization is about average for such efforts.
Alliance, about 50 miles southeast of Cleveland, is ablue-collar city of about 23,000 people that also is home to MountUnion College.
Waiting for Vaccination Shots
Over the weekend, thousands of residents lined up at hospitalsfor hours to receive antibiotics, which are effective for one ortwo days. Since then, residents had waited to learn if they mustreturn for vaccination shots, which last three to five years.
The inoculation will begin Friday, and it takes seven to 10 daysfor the vaccine to take effect. The state is paying for the shots,which cost $55 each.
Students who will receive the vaccinations attend West Branch,Alliance, Marlington, Sebring, Salem and St. Thomas Aquinas highschools. Immediate family members of VanCamp and the students whodied also will receive vaccinations. So far, there are no plans toinclude relatives of other students.
Jodie Grove, who just completed a school year as president ofthe Mom's Club at Alliance High School, said she expects her twosons, ages 18 and 15, will be inoculated.
"I think everybody is very happy they [public health officials]are doing this, that they are taking the precaution. I know that inour house we are not panicked," she said.
Alliance Schools Superintendent Arthur D. Garnes said Tuesdaynight that the decision to provide the shots gives students andtheir parents a "sense of direction" that he hopes will calmconcerns.
Most of the questions to the hot line have been about the riskof exposure and who was to be vaccinated, said Jay Carey, aspokesman for the state's health department.
Disease Spread by Saliva
The Neisseria bacteria causes both meningitis, a disease of thebrain, and meningococcemia, a disease of the blood. The disease isspread by saliva by such means as drinking out of someone else'sglass or sharing a fork or spoon. Symptoms include high fever,headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion.
VanCamp's test results were delayed by a paperwork mix-up. TheAkron hospital sent her blood and urine samples via FedEx to theCDC in Atlanta but FedEx returned them because the paperwork washandwritten. On Friday, FedEx started requiring all paperwork forhazardous packages — including medical samples — to be typed. TheVanCamp samples were sent to Atlanta again Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, VanCamp's parents described how their daughterwas comatose when she was sent to Akron on Saturday.
VanCamp's mother, Julianne Franks, said she will have to fightthe impulse to be overprotective when her daughter returns home. "It'll be kind of hard for me to watch her walk out the door,"she said.