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DISEASE OUTBREAK Calls flood line



Published: Wed, June 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Students and staff from six area high schools will get the shots Friday.

STAFF/WIRE REPORTS

Citizens concerned about an outbreak of meningococcal disease in the area have flooded an Ohio Department of Health hot line with phone calls the past two days, said Jay Kerry, ODH public information officer.

The hot line links concerned citizens and the press with public health-care professionals who can "answer questions and calm fears," Kerry said. ODH has established an information center at the Stark County Emergency Management Agency in Canton, Kerry said.

"I was here until about 1:30 this morning, and it was not until then that the phone calls began to die down," Kerry said. "By 7 a.m. this morning, they were starting again."

Vaccinations: State health officials will vaccinate 5,800 students and staff members from six area high schools Friday to halt an outbreak of meningococcal disease that has killed two teen-agers and left another critically ill.

The schools are West Branch and Sebring high schools in Mahoning County; Alliance, Marlington and St. Thomas Aquinas high schools in Stark County; and Salem High School in Columbiana County. It includes all ninth- through 12th-graders at those schools plus seventh- and eighth-graders at Sebring.

It's believed to be Ohio's first mass vaccination against the rare but deadly meningococcal bacteria, and one of only three or four such efforts to happen nationwide each year.

"Our job is to err on the side of conservatism," Dr. J. Nick Baird, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said at a press conference Tuesday.

ODH doctors say only people who have previously had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine should be concerned about getting the vaccination, Kerry said.

Salem Superintendent Dr. David Brobeck said vaccinations will be distributed for Salem High School students in the high school cafeteria Friday. Distributions will be made according to classes, the class of 2004 at 10 a.m., 2003 at 11:30 a.m., 2002 at 1 p.m. and 2001 at 2:30 p.m. There also will be a 4 to 6 p.m. session for anyone who missed an earlier distribution, Brobeck said.

School staff will be on hand to identify students, and anyone not authorized to receive the vaccination will be asked to leave, he said. Police will be asked to be on hand to ensure order, Brobeck said.

West Branch Superintendent Louis Ramunno said school officials will decide later today on the vaccination scheduling for West Branch High School students. He said Sebring High School students will also come to West Branch for the vaccine.

Kerry said the vaccination will be by injection in the back of the arm. He said ODH will pay the $55 cost of each injection to high school students and staff of the six high schools, and to any household contacts of the three victims.

ODH officials said earlier this week that ODH will likely seek funding for the vaccine from the state controlling board.

Kerry said there have been no new confirmed cases reported at any area hospitals.

Others: Anyone concerned about contracting the disease but who is excluded from receiving the free vaccination can contact their family doctors, but neither ODH or the Centers for Disease Control and prevention are recommending that, Kerry said.

"By the time you start talking about having contact with people who might have had contact with the victims, the risk is very, very low -- minimal," Kerry said. "CDC, ODH and local health-care professionals have worked hard to develop the scientific protocol to determine the at-risk population."

Another case: The state health department's decision came three days after 18-year-old Marlington High School senior Christin Van Camp was diagnosed with a likely case of meningococcemia, a bacterial infection of the blood.

Kerry said health officials are still waiting for tests results showing whether the Stark County student had the same type of bacteria that killed two 15-year-olds from nearby West Branch High School in Mahoning County over the Memorial Day weekend.

A mass distribution of preventive antibiotics to more than 37,000 people in the region that continued through Monday morning probably eliminated the risk, Baird said.

But unlike the vaccine, which immunizes people for three to five years, the antibiotics only help people ward off the bacteria within the first 24 to 48 hours after contact.

Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, or a related blood disorder.

But local health experts are still asking anyone with symptoms -- including fever, rash, stiff neck, achiness and nausea or vomiting -- to seek medical help.

Health officials continued to stress Tuesday that meningococcal disease is rare and difficult to catch.

The disease is spread by direct contact with an infected person's saliva or nasal secretions, such as drinking from someone else's glass or sharing a toothbrush.




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