MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE OUTBREAK CDC works to identify strain
Health officials distributed antibiotics as a precaution to thousands of people over the weekend, but they planned to halt the distribution today.
ALLIANCE -- An epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to assist local officials in determining the need for communitywide vaccinations against a meningococcal outbreak here, said Dr. Mark Hostettler, medical director of the Alliance Community Hospital.
Meanwhile, health officials were wrapping up the marathon distribution of antibiotics to thousands of people concerned about a meningitis-related outbreak that killed two teens.
Officials planned to stop distributing the preventive antibiotic this morning. They estimated that more than 10,000 people received the antibiotic by late Sunday with supplies replenished by shipments that arrived by helicopter.
With the distribution cutoff tied to the incubation period, people will be told "there is no further clinical benefit," said Hostettler.
Dr. Robert Felter, director of Tod Children's Hospital, Youngstown, said Forum Health Centers will continue to write prescriptions for the antibiotic as needed and follow any recommendations of the county health department. Felter also noted anyone concerned about contracting the disease may also receive prescriptions from their primary care physician or pediatrician.
A hospital spokeswoman said Forum Health facilities, including Tod and Northside hospitals in Youngstown and Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, received numerous phone calls over the weekend from concerned parents and others. Forum Health emergency rooms were kept busy all weekend dispensing the prescriptions, especially Saturday, she said.
Officials at other area hospitals could not be reached to comment this morning.
Unidentified strain: Officials began distributing antibiotics Saturday after Christin Van Camp, 18, was diagnosed with an unidentified strain of the disease.
Jonathan Stauffer, 15, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, both West Branch High School students, died after being diagnosed with the same strain of the disease. West Branch Superintendent Louis Ramunno said the two may have shared a water bottle at a school picnic last month.
Van Camp, a student at Marlington High School about 15 miles away, was hospitalized in serious condition. Doctors expected to know by later today if Van Camp had the same strain, Hostettler said.
If Van Camp's strain turns out to be the same strain that killed the teens, Alliance will likely launch a vaccination program, according to Hostettler, who said a decision would be made early in the week.
Fear: The disease sparked confusion and fear among residents.
Marie Difloure, 35, and other parents of Alliance High School seniors tried in vain to persuade officials to call off Sunday's graduation ceremonies. "They can postpone it, instead of risking people's lives," she said.
The event went on as planned, but several doors of the school still had placards advising, "This is not a site for medication," and directed people to the hospital.
At the hospital, people stood in line expressing concern about contact with others, even with friends and relatives.
As hospital workers handed out forms to people standing in lines for antibiotics, several people wouldn't use the offered pens. "I'd rather use my own," said Pam Craft, 48.
Her 16-year-old son, Chris, said "everybody's panicking," but said he was not concerned because, "All of my friends are already on the medication."
Stacy Young, 26, said she was concerned about her 5-year-old daughter "hugging and kissing her aunt" because the teen-age relative attended Marlington High School with Van Camp.
How it spreads: The disease is spread by close contact, such as intimate kissing, drinking out of the same container or sharing an eating utensil, health officials said.
Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion and possible rash.
Health officials recommended anyone who had contact with students at Marlington, West Branch and Alliance city school districts receive the preventive antibiotics.
Marlington postponed its graduation ceremonies scheduled for Sunday and canceled classes for the rest of the year, including final exams.
Classes at West Branch were canceled Monday. Superintendent Lou Rammuno said this morning school officials would decide later today whether to cancel classes Tuesday and Wednesday, the remaining two days of school.
Officials at nearby United and Salem schools have canceled classes this week. The last day of school for students in both districts was to be Wednesday. A spokeswoman at United said adminstrators would decide today when students could return to pick up personal belongings and turn in textbooks.
Salem rescheduled commencement from Sunday to 7 tonight, and students will be permitted in the buildings from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to return books and pick up personal belongings, said Salem Superintendent David Brobeck.
St. Thomas Aquinas High School in nearby Louisville canceled classes for the week.