ARHS mum on meningitis probe

By Ritchie E. Starnes

Chowan Herald

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EDENTON — As of Friday afternoon neither local health nor school officials had learned whether a Chowan Middle School teacher had positively contracted bacterial meningitis. Even if they had, however, state law precludes a public confirmation.

Jerry Parks, director of Albemarle Regional Health Services, said Friday that neither Albemarle Hospital nor Vidant Medical Center had confirmed a suspected case of bacterial meningitis. But, Parks added that state laws related to patient confidentiality preclude public confirmation.

A signed consent waiver by the patient is required before ARHS can release any further information specifically related to the suspected case of bacterial meningitis.

“We have no intentions to seek that,” Parks said. “Only in the event of an emergency such as an epidemic could I release more and that’s not what we have here.”

Edenton Chowan Schools’ Superintendent Allan Smith contacted Parks at 7:15 a.m. Thursday about a case of suspected bacterial meningitis at the middle school. A relative of a sickened teacher advised school officials that the teacher had been hospitalized for suspected bacterial meningitis. As a precaution, Smith also sent out a letter to parents advising them of the suspected case.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, bacterial meningitis is a life-threatening condition because it can cause the tissues around the brain to swell. This in turn interferes with blood flow and can result in paralysis or even stroke.

Parks and Michelle Maddox, schools’ spokeswoman, said Thursday that they had hoped to have a confirmation by Friday. Both said Friday afternoon that neither had been notified. The school system is deferring further comment to ARHS.

“And we’ve been in contact with both hospitals throughout the day,” Parks said.

Regardless whether health care officials can share a confirmed case of bacterial meningitis, Parks said the course of action will be for parents to confer with their family physician should their child begin to display symptoms.

According to the CDC, symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion. Symptoms can appear suddenly or over several days, typically three to seven days after exposure. Later symptoms can evolve into seizures or comas.

Antibiotic vaccinations are readily available to treat bacterial meningitis, Parks said. Immediate treatment is critical.

“It does respond very well to antibiotics,” he said.

Vaccination for bacterial meningitis is among the recommended childhood vaccinations, although not within the required category. If a child has ever been vaccinated for bacterial meningitis the information is part of a registry that’s accessible to physicians and/or the health department, Parks said. He encourages parents to contact either to verify vaccination.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2 through 18 years old in the United States. Meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections.

About 1,000 to 1,200 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Even when they are treated with antibiotics, 10-15 percent of these people die. Of those who live, another 11-19 percent lose their arms or legs, have problems with their nervous systems, become deaf, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people 16-21 years

Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, many people who get the disease die from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for people at 
highest risk.

A relative of a sickened teacher advised school officials that the teacher had been hospitalized for suspected bacterial meningitis.

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