Thursday, September 11, 2003

Illness strikes N.Ky. schools

Eight cases in Boone, Kenton

By William Croyle, Enquirer contributor
and Cindy Schroeder, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ten Cincinnati-area students have been diagnosed with viral meningitis, but health officials say parents shouldn't be unduly concerned.

Principals in Northern Kentucky's two largest school systems - Boone County and Kenton County - as well as Bridgetown Middle School in Green Township, recently sent letters to parents about the cases. C.O. Harrison Elementary in Delhi Township also reported a case to Hamilton County health officials.

Unlike bacterial meningitis, which progresses more rapidly and has a fatality rate of 5 percent to 15 percent, viral meningitis generally results in flu-type symptoms and is rarely fatal, said Dr. Cynthia Yund, epidemiologist for the Hamilton County General Health District.

"I think people hear the word 'meningitis' and it's a frightening word,'' said Evie Van Herpe, epidemiology administrator for the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District. "It's almost a panic word. But viral meningitis is fairly common this time of year. In healthy people, it rarely causes any long-term complications.''

Van Herpe said most people with viral meningitis have mild symptoms, including headache, fatigue and a low-grade fever. Because viral meningitis can be spread through poor hygiene and respiratory secretions, infants and school-age children tend to be at highest risk, health officials said.

Seven cases of viral meningitis have been reported in the Kenton County School District. Caywood Elementary, Twenhofel Middle School and Turkey Foot Middle School each have reported one case, said Peter Lefaivre, executive director of secondary education and student support services. Piner Elementary and White's Tower Elementary each have two cases.

Of Kenton County Schools' cases, three or four students are related.

"The health and safety of all students is our priority,'' Lefaivre said. "Please remember, viral meningitis is an infection that is common at this time of year.''

David Sammons, principal of Burlington Elementary, said a parent reported the viral meningitis case to the school on Monday, and a letter was sent home with students that afternoon. He said all classrooms and desks were disinfected Monday night as a precaution.

"Looking at the realm of possibilities, the child could have contracted it here or somewhere else,'' Sammons said. "We don't know. We do have a rigorous policy for hand-washing.''

Kentucky health officials are not required to track cases of viral meningitis. Ohio does track cases, and health officials said cases of viral meningitis are down this year in Hamilton County and statewide.


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