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HEALTH THREAT 5,800 to get shots



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



Officials are proceeding with vaccinations after test results in one case were delayed.

STAFF/WIRE REPORTS

CANTON -- The state health department will vaccinate up to 5,800 students in area schools to protect them from an apparent meningococcal disease outbreak that has killed two teen-agers and left a third seriously ill.

Health officials will start administering the shots for free Friday to students in six schools in and around Alliance.

Students and staff members at 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 are being asked to get the free vaccine at clinics beginning Friday morning. The shots are for ninth- through 12th-graders in those districts but also includes seventh- and eighth-graders in Sebring.

Family members and others who had close, intimate contact with the three victims also can get the free shot.

"Our job is to err on the side of conservatism," Nick Baird, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said in a news conference in Canton.

The state will cover the $55 cost per shot.

The situation: In an outbreak that has spread fear and confusion in the region, two West Branch High School students, Jonathan Stauffer, 15, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, died more than a week ago after contracting a blood infection caused by a strain of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis.

On Saturday, Christin Van Camp, 18, a student at Marlington High School, west of Alliance and about 15 miles from West Branch, was diagnosed with a similar ailment.

The bacteria give victims either meningitis, a disease of the brain, or meningococcemia, a blood infection.

The germs are spread by saliva by such means as drinking out of someone else's glass or sharing a fork or spoon.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion.

Antibiotics: Thousands of people in the Alliance area lined up over the weekend to get antibiotics and about 37,000 doses were given out, but the pills protect people for only a day or two. A vaccine lasts three to five years.

Karen Vrabec, Alliance Community Hospital spokeswoman, estimated that the hospital distributed free antibiotics to about 18,000 people.

It probably cost the hospital about $100,000 to distribute the antibiotics, some of which had to be flown in from other locations.

That figure doesn't factor in staffing costs associated with the distribution, Vrabec said.

The hospital will review whether it will seek reimbursement for the expense from the state or federal government.

Vaccines: A decision on immunization is based on the number of infections in a community.

In a town the size of Alliance, (about 23,000 population) three infections would be the minimum required under guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the past week, people have begun protecting themselves with surgical masks and disinfectant wipes and some of those who lined up for antibiotics refused to use the pens being offered to fill out the forms because they had been handled by others.

Softball games, a dance recital, even final exams have been canceled as several schools closed early for summer recess, including Salem, West Branch and United Local schools.

Before ordering vaccinations, authorities wanted to know if the hospitalized victim has the same strain of bacteria as the teens who died.

When test results were delayed by a paperwork foul-up, the Health Department decided Tuesday to go ahead with the shots.

Van Camp's test results were delayed after blood and urine samples sent to the CDC by Akron Children's Hospital Medical Center were returned undelivered by FedEx because the paperwork was handwritten instead of typed.

The new FedEx policy for hazardous packages went into effect last Friday.

The samples were sent again Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said FedEx has been warning shippers about the impending policy change since November.

Munoz said the policy was implemented because handwritten labels have a much higher rate of errors.

Van Camp was comatose when she was sent to Akron on Saturday, but her doctors said she is expected to recover.

She became infected after attending calling hours last week for one of the dead teens.

Van Camp's mother, Julianne Franks, said the family had been aware of the outbreak last week but did not want to restrict the activities of their children.




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