Meningitis vaccinations urged for young New Caney residents

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Fair use, etc http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/799603 "Meningitis vaccinations urged for young New Caney residents ... By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle NEW CANEY -- State health officials today recommended mass inoculations in New Caney in response to an outbreak of bacterial meningitis that has stricken at least 11 people in Montgomery County since October.

SYMPTOMS OF MENINGITIS Fever Severe headache

Stiffness of the neck

Nausea or vomiting

Skin rash with small, purplish-red spots

Meningitis can be spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils.

Vaccination was recommended for those between the ages of 2 and 24. The shots are not effective for babies and not considered as critical for healthy adults.

The vaccine will be available perhaps as early as Saturday, state officials said, and vaccination sites will be announced soon.

The vaccine typically costs about $120 per inoculation but will be offered at discount because of the outbreak. State officials did not, however, specify an amount.

The recommendation came after officials confirmed that at least three cases in the New Caney area are from the same strain of the illness.

In the nearby Humble school district today, officials confirmed that a 9th-grader is being treated for bacterial meningitis. School officials said at least three other pupils, from other campuses, have been treated since August.

In addition, a 56-year-old woman died of meningitis earlier this month in Humble, which is in northeast Harris County, near the New Caney-Porter area of Montgomery County. The cases confirmed in Montgomery County since the October start of the flu season include one that resulted in the death of a 13-year-old boy this week. At least one other case involving an adult has been reported. The adult -- a Woodlands man in his late 60s -- is in Houston Northwest Medical Center, according to a relative who asked not to be identified. She said he had been in a coma, but his condition has improved. Bacterial meningitis is a fast-moving infection that attacks the covering of the brain and spinal cord. In some cases, the bacteria are still being typed to determine which of five strains caused the illness, said state Health Department spokesman Doug McBride. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommends mass inoculations when the number of meningitis cases of the same strain exceeds 10 per 100,000 population. State health officials said today that the number of cases in the New Caney/Porter area translates to a rate of 222 per 100,000. Of Montgomery County's confirmed cases since October, six have been in Conroe, four in New Caney/Porter and one in Magnolia. The Magnolia case claimed the life of Tanner Wayne Hurst, a seventh-grader at Magnolia Junior High School. Officials said the 13-year-old youth became ill Thursday and died Monday in a Houston hospital. Also north of Houston, in Liberty County, a Liberty High School student died of meningitis recently. In addition, another recent case was reported today in a girl in the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District in Fort Bend County. Officials there said she is recovering and no other cases have been reported in the county. While caution is warranted, Dr. Mark Guidry, the state Health Department's regional director in Houston, stressed that children do not face an increased risk in a typical classroom setting. He recommended no restrictions on school attendance, travel or public gatherings. New Caney school Superintendent Rick Cowan and Magnolia Superintendent Mike Holland reported about a 5 percent increase Wednesday in absenteeism. Health officials recommend that anyone experiencing early symptoms of meningitis, which can mimic the flu, be checked by a doctor immediately. Symptoms include sudden fever, intense headache, stiff neck and nausea. Many patients also develop a purplish-red rash. The illness is spread by direct contact from sneezing, coughing, kissing or sharing eating or drinking utensils, McBride said. Frequent handwashing and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing can reduce the risk of exposure, he said. Frankie Milley -- who lost her son, Ryan, to meningitis only months after he graduated from New Caney High School in 1999 -- worked with school nurses in her district this week on recognizing the illness and what to tell parents about it. However, she believes the best safeguard is to require the vaccine for children. She has been lobbying at the national and state level to get this accomplished. "Can you imagine my devastation when I found out 24 hours after my son died that there was a vaccine that could have saved his life and they have used it to immunize soldiers for years?" Milley asked. The CDC does not yet recommend mass immunization against meningitis, arguing that the vaccine lasts only three years and would have to be repeated. Also, experts note, the vaccine works against only four of the five strains and is not effective for children under age 2. Milley, however, said the human cost is huge in terms of children who die or are maimed, blinded, deafened or brain-damaged by the illness every year. Services were scheduled for today at Champion Forest Baptist Church for Hurst, the youth who died Monday. His principal, Dave Hadden, described him as a good student who was well-liked and served as manager of the basketball team. Some parents also organized a reception after the funeral at Tomball Bible Church for classmates and friends. New Caney businesses and churches are setting aside Sunday and Monday as "David Schatell Day" to honor a 10-year-old elementary pupil who lost both legs and one hand to meningitis in October, Milley said. He was one of the first victims of the outbreak and friends want to raise funds to make his home more accessible, she said. Mass immunizations in Texas have been ordered as recently as 1994, when 234 cases were confirmed statewide, compared with a normal yearly average of 93 to 111 cases, said Dr. William Gray of the state Health Department. Inoculations were given countywide in Greg, Rusk and Grayson counties and to adults who had attended an Austin nightclub. McBride noted, however, that 15 percent of healthy people have the meningitis bacteria in their noses and throats but do not get sick. What triggers the illness remains a mystery, he said. "We don't always understand why one person gets sick and not another," said Jeffrey Starke, director of infection control at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "Meningitis is rare, but so spectacular and serious because it makes you get sick so fast." He said the illness tends to show up more often during flu season. Officials said Texas Children's had three meningitis patients as of Wednesday: a 14-year-old Porter girl who is in critical condition; an 8-year-old New Caney boy in good condition and a 4-week-old baby in good condition. No other information about the infant was available.

-- tex (tex@tex.com), January 18, 2001


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