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No new disease cases confirmed



Published: Wed, May 30, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By STEPHANIE UJHELYI

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

BELOIT -- Health officials say no additional cases of meningococcal disease have been confirmed since two West Branch High School students died.

Lisa Chamberlin, assistant director of public relations at Salem Community Hospital, said Tuesday that traffic appears to be back to normal. Hundreds of people lined up Monday to receive antibiotics since the news broke.

Students who died: Jonathan Stauffer, 15, of Alliance, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, of Salem died from meningococcal disease. The disease takes two forms, attacking either the blood or the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Either form can be fatal.

Karen Brabec, director of public relations at Alliance Community Hospital, said out of the 900 concerned people who visited the hospital, tests confirmed no new cases of the illness. More results are pending, she added.

As of a result of the increased traffic at the hospital -- 100 people is the norm -- Brabec said the hospital is working with its local health department to possibly provide a clinic.

Rick Setty of the Mahoning County Health District said two or three people were put into isolation because they showed symptoms. He said his department and the health departments of Stark and Columbiana counties and Alliance are staying in touch.

About the infection: Setty described meningococcal disease as an "opportunistic bacterial infection" that spreads through the body.

According to statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, 10 percent to 15 percent of all meningococcal disease is fatal.

Setty assured the concerned community that no information is being withheld.

West Branch schools, as well as neighboring Real Life Christian Academy, will remain closed until Monday, school officials announced Tuesday.

Superintendent Lou Ramunno said school and normal school activities were canceled because of the "uncertainty gripping our community."

Help offered: Dr. Mark Hostettler, chief medical officer for Alliance Community Hospital, said that the hospital has been providing counseling, screening and antibiotics for people at risk of contracting the disease or people just worried about contracting it. At-risk people are those who came into contact with the two students who died.

Dr. Hostettler was at the high school today along with Dr. Duane Kuentz, a family practitioner who has children in the school district. Dr. Kuentz told staff members that there was no need to cancel graduation parties and other events because of the disease.

There is no risk of the disease spreading except among those who came into contact with Stauffer and Coblentz and who have not had antibiotics.

A Real Life spokeswoman said school was canceled in response to the West Branch decision. Real Life Christian Academy is a parochial school that includes kindergarten through eighth grade. Many siblings of West Branch students attend Real Life.

Stauffer died Saturday and Coblentz died Monday.

Active, popular: Both students were popular and active in extracurricular activities, said Bob Altenhof, junior high school guidance counselor and high school football coach.

Stauffer was active in his church's youth group and community services as well as being the only freshman member of West Branch's varsity football team. He also participated in wrestling and track, Altenhof said.

Coblentz, a sophomore, was a starting point guard on the West Branch varsity basketball team and led the team in assists, Altenhof said. She also was a two-year letterman on the varsity soccer team and a member of Students Against Driving Drunk.

Altenhof said the toughest part he and others are dealing with is the absence of clear answers to how this happened.

Few individuals took advantage of grief counseling set up at the high school Tuesday. Peg Kinnick, high school guidance counselor, said a few parents stopped by to pick up books; however, most of the concerns were fielded over the phone.

Sebring school: Howard Friend, Sebring schools superintendent, said Sebring students returned to classes today because no more cases of disease have emerged. Sebring School District is surrounded by the 2,600-pupil West Branch district.




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