Three hospitalized in meningitis scare
A rare outbreak of meningitis occurred among three Tahoe-Truckee High School students last week.
According to Nevada County Health Department officials, on Thursday, Dec. 14, two students were treated in the Intensive Care Unit at Tahoe Forest Hospital for meningococcal meningitis and a third teen with a probable diagnosis of meningitis was also admitted. The patients were released from the hospital and were reported to be in healthy condition by hospital staff.
All three patients are TTHS students between the ages of 15 and 16 years old.
Last Thursday, students were notified of the outbreak and not allowed to leave the school until permission slips were handed out to be signed by parents to allow them to take an antibiotic pill on Friday.
Friday, Nevada and Placer County Health nurses and volunteers administered a single dose of Cipro, an antibiotic that has been proven to be effective in preventing meningitis, to approximately 800 TTHS students and staff.
“It is very unusual (to have an outbreak like this). That is why we are taking such swift action in this,” said Cheryl Montague, director of nursing for the Nevada County Community Health Department.
Montague said health officials do not know exactly how the disease was spread, but that it was by close contact between the teens.
“The disease is not spread by casual contact, through the water or by breathing the air of a person who is carrying the disease,” stated health officials in a press release issued Dec. 14.
“It is spread by directly sharing bodily fluids, such as saliva. Most people don’t get this disease even if they are exposed. Even with exposure, only one-half percent of people develop the illness. However, if anyone believes they have had close personal contact (with the patients) or feels at risk, they should contact the county health departments or their private physician.”
Menigococcal disease is one of the most feared infectious diseases in the United States. Both outbreaks and even individual cases are rare. The disease causes great concern among health care workers when cases occur because meningitis has the ability to affect previously healthy persons without warning and cause serious illness and sometimes death. The symptoms are flu-like, including a sudden fever, headaches, neck pain and stiffness, nausea and vomiting.
Students expressed concern on Thursday and Friday and some were scared and worried for their classmates.
Many said they heard all three students were at the same party on Friday, Dec. 8.
“I found out on Wednesday because a girl from my ski team is one of the girls that had it,” senior Kelly Collins said. “I think a lot of people were concerned. Apparently all three students went to the same party Friday night … Now everyone’s wondering, ‘did I drink out of their water bottle at the ski race, did I use their Chapstick?'”
TTHS junior Kaitlin Steverman said one of her close friends was one of the patients who contracted the disease.
“I really didn’t think it was a big deal until Thursday when everyone was here panicking,” Steverman said. “When I first found out she had it I was really shocked.”
Steverman said the three students who contracted the disease didn’t really know each other.
“It’s weird that the people who got it were barely associated,” she said.
Steverman volunteered to help hand out the antibiotic pill to students Friday.
“Pretty much every student we could get a hold of took a pill,” she said.
Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District Superintendent Pat Gemma said he was impressed by the swift action taken by local health officials.
“When I visited the high school on Friday morning to see how the medication was being distributed, I was inspired by how quickly and effectively the county health departments and Tahoe Forest Hospital personnel united their efforts to address this need,” Gemma said. “My hats are off to Mike Finney and Dennis LeBlanc for their quick and effective efforts to muster the necessary support.”
Dr. Charles Johnson of Nevada County Health and Dr. Richard Burton of Placer County Health developed a plan of action for those students who were not at school Friday or did not have a signed parental consent to take the antibiotic. Public health nursing staff will be available at the Nevada County Community Health Clinic in Truckee, 10075 Levon Ave. Suite 207, Monday through Friday this week from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to work with students who did not receive the antibiotic. No appointments are necessary.
No new cases of meningococcal meningitis have been identified at this time. Anyone who needs more information should contact Nevada County Community Health at (530) 265-1450 or Placer County Health and Human Services Agency at (530) 889-7141 or their private physician.
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