Monday, June 04, 2001

Concern rising over meningitis outbreak

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        ALLIANCE, Ohio — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send in an expert to help determine if residents should receive vaccinations for a meningitis-related outbreak that caused the deaths of two high school students and left another critically ill.

        Health officials plan to stop distributing preventive antibiotics this morning. They estimated more than 10,000 people had received the antibiotic since the outbreak began.

        After 9 a.m. today, “they will be told that there is no further clinical benefit. It's not pulling the plug,” said Dr. Mark Hostettler, medical director of the Alliance Community Hospital.

        Two Beloit West Branch High School students died after being diagnosed with the same strain of Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria causes both meningitis, a disease of the brain and meningo coccemia, a blood ailment that has afflicted the three Ohio students.

        Another student, from Marlington High School about 15 miles away, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

        Meningitis is spread by close contact, such as drinking out of the same container or sharing an eating utensil, health officials said.

        Although people in the community were concerned about the outbreak, Alliance High School had a large turnout at its commencement ceremonies Sunday afternoon.

        “You can't tell a kid you can't go,” said Matt Difloure, whose daughter Tiffany was to graduate. “It's a once in a lifetime thing.”

        Sixteen-year-old Chris Kraft, a student at Marlington, said the students' deaths have some people in a panic.

        “I'm not too worried because all my friends are already on the medication,” he said while waiting in line Sunday for antibiotics.

        Stacy Young, 26, of Alliance, said she has a sister-in-law who attends Marlington and is watching out for her 5-year-old daughter.

        “I was concerned about her hugging and kissing her aunt and everybody,” she said.

        West Branch freshman Jonathan Stauffer, 15, died May 23, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, a sophomore, died May 25. Family members described the two West Branch students as friends, and both had attended an annual school picnic May 22.

        Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion and possible rash.

        There are about 3,000 cases of meningitis annually in the United States, said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC in Atlanta. Of those cases, 10 percent to 15 percent die from the disease.


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