Meningitis spread halted

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2004

WINTON – Rapid response between health agencies in two states was the reason that a local case of meningitis was stopped in its tracks.

On Friday of last week, the Hertford-Gates Health Agency (HGHA) was notified that a 14-month-old Virginia resident, hospitalized on March 25 with meningitis, had attended a birthday party in Gates County on March 20. Initial notification came through a school nurse in Gates County, who was alerted by a family member of one of the children that attended the birthday party.

According to Dr. Ruth Geyer of the HGHA, the child in question was suffering from Meningococcal meningitis, a contagious bacterial infection. The Chesapeake (Va.) District Health Department (CDHD) was also contacted and made aware of the contacts at the birthday party.

&uot;Based on this information and following consultation with our Regional Public Health Response and Surveillance Team, exposed individuals were contacted and advised of the need for prophylactic antibiotic therapy to prevent serious infection,&uot; said Dr. Geyer.

In order to quickly address the dire situation, the Epidemiology Team of the HGHA was mobilized and affected individuals were contacted. Those potential victims were advised of their possible exposure. Arrangements were made for preventive antibiotic therapy.

Additionally, area hospital emergency departments were alerted to be on the lookout for infection in exposed individuals. Those contacts, made on Friday night, went out to medical facilities in both North Carolina and Virginia.

Meanwhile, staff members of both the HGHA and CDHD continued to monitor the situation through the weekend.

The warnings did result in two individuals being checked at a local hospital. Both were treated with antibiotics for symptoms of potential infection. Fortunately, blood and spinal fluid cultures tested negative, thus far, for Neisseria meningitides.

&uot;Those results make the Meningococcal disease unlikely at this point,&uot; stated Dr. Geyer.

Geyer added that the infected child remains hospitalized and is showing signs of improvement. She said there is no evidence that the Gates County Schools students attending the party were exposed to the infection, leading local health officials to not administer antibiotic prophylaxis. However, the affected students as well as other Gates County residents who attended the party have received appropriate and effective antibiotics to prevent the spread of the infection.

On the other side of the state line, CDHD officials have notified the Virginia residents attending the party of their need to take the same antibiotics.

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by infection of the spinal fluid with Neisseria meningitides. When this bacterium gets into areas of the body such as the blood or spinal fluid, which are normally sterile, it can cause a life threatening infection known as Meningococcal disease. It can take 2-to-10 days (most commonly 3-to-4 days) after the initial infection for symptoms to develop.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, a non-blanching rash (doesn’t fade when pressure is applied), stiff neck and eye pain caused by light.

The disease is diagnosed by seeing evidence of the organism in normally sterile blood or spinal fluid, either by using a rapid antigen test, seeing the bacteria under a microscope or isolating the bacteria by laboratory culture. The organisms usually disappear within 24 hours after appropriate antibiotic therapy is started.