Meningitis Outbreak Prompts Mass Vaccinations

C A N T O N, Ohio, June 5, 2001 -- The state Health Department recommended today that 5,800 students be vaccinated to protect them from ameningitis-related outbreak that has killed two high schoolstudents and left a third seriously ill.

Health officials will start administering the shots Friday tostudents in six schools in and around the northeastern Ohio city ofAlliance.

"Our job is to err on the side of conservatism," said NickBaird, director of the Health Department.

Over the weekend, thousands of people in the Alliance area linedup to get antibiotics, and about 37,000 doses were given out. Butthe pills protect people for only a day or two. A vaccine laststhree to five years.

Infection Kills Two High School Students

Two Beloit West Branch High School students, Jonathan Stauffer,15, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, died more than a week ago aftercontracting a blood infection caused by a strain of the bacteriaNeisseria meningitidis. School officials suspect the two shared awater bottle at a school picnic last month. Christin Van Camp, 18, a student at Marlington High School,about 15 miles away, was diagnosed Saturday with the same kind ofblood infection.

The bacteria give victims either meningitis, a disease of thebrain, or meningococcemia, a blood infection.

The bacteria are spread by saliva, which can be spread bydrinking out of someone's glass or sharing a fork or spoon.Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion,nausea, vomiting and exhaustion.

A decision on immunization is based on the number of infectionsin a community. In a town the size of Alliance — about 23,000people — three infections would be the minimum required underguidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control andPrevention.

Surgical Masks and Disinfectant

The outbreak has spread fear and confusion in and aroundAlliance.

People have begun protecting themselves with surgical masks anddisinfectant wipes, and some of those who lined up for theantibiotics refused to use the pens being offered to fill out theforms, because they had been handled by others.

Softball games, a dance recital, even final exams have beencanceled in Alliance and neighboring communities.

Before ordering vaccinations, authorities wanted to know if thehospitalized victim has the same strain of bacteria as the teenswho died. But after the test results were delayed by a paperworkfoul-up, the Health Department decided today to go ahead with theshots without waiting.

Van Camp's test results were delayed after blood and urinesamples sent to the CDC by Akron Children's Hospital Medical Centerwere returned by FedEx.

The paperwork was handwritten, and last Friday, FedEx startedrequiring that paperwork for hazardous packages be typed, said Dr.Blaise Congeni, director of infectious disease for the hospital.

The samples were sent again today.

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