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Carson student has bacterial meningitis

By Kathy Chaffin and Steve Huffman
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
A senior from Carson High School was admitted to Rowan Regional Medical Center Friday after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and later airlifted to Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where she remains as a patient.
Henry Kluttz, the principal at Carson, said Tuesday afternoon that school officials were told Monday night that the student’s condition had improved.
“To my knowledge, this is the only case,” he said. “It’s the only case involving a school child that we’re aware of.”
Nora Cartner, public health nurse supervisor for the Rowan County Health Department, said two other students were treated in the emergency room at Rowan Regional Monday evening, both of them complaining of flu-like symptoms.
Cartner said that both students were given preventive antibiotics and that health department officials will be in contact with their families and health-care providers to see if they develop any more symptoms.
Because bacterial meningitis is highly contagious, school and health department officials have been working together to take precautions to prevent its spread and quickly identify any further cases, according to Rita Foil, public information officer for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
After talking with the affected student’s teachers, Foil said Carson Assistant Principal Kelly Withers and Susan McClary, the school nurse, met with students who sat near her or had close contact with her prior to her illness to let them know what was going on.
Kluttz also sent out a Connect-Ed telephone message to all parents of Carson students advising them of the case and identifying the symptoms: high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and discomfort looking at bright lights. Foil said Kluttz advised parents to contact the health department or their family physicians if their children had any of those symptoms.
Kluttz said the most telling symptoms of the disease are neck stiffness, nausea and an intolerance to light.
“If you have any doubts, call your doctor, go to the emergency room,” he said of the possibility of a child displaying symptoms.
Kluttz said another Connect-Ed message was scheduled to go out Tuesday evening reminding parents of the symptoms and urging them to keep a close watch on their children over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Four students, including one who drank after the affected student, have been put on a preventive antibiotic by their physicians, Foil said.
The affected student signed out of school at about 1:20 p.m. Thursday. The symptoms came on very quickly, she said.
The student went that afternoon to see her family physician, who began treating her for a virus. After her condition worsened overnight, Foil said she returned to her physician Friday, who had her admitted to Rowan Regional.
Cartner said Rowan County usually has one or two cases of bacterial meningitis a year, but added that it had been several years since a case involved a student.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Web site, bacterial meningitis “can mainly be spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. This can occur through coughing, kissing and sneezing.”
The Web site says none of the bacteria that cause meningitis are as contagious as the common cold or the flu. Also, the bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningitis has been.
It says, however, that the bacteria that cause meningitis have spread to other people who have had close or prolonged contact with a patient with meningitis.
Because bacterial meningitis can be life threatening, the CDC Web site says early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If symptoms occur, the patient should see a doctor immediately.
The diagnosis is usually made by growing bacteria from a sample of spinal fluid, according to the Web site. The spinal fluid is obtained by performing a spinal tap, in which a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back where fluid in the spinal canal can be collected.
Identification of the type of bacteria responsible is important for selection of correct antibiotics.
The CDC Web site says bacterial meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is important, however, that treatment be started early in the course of the disease.
Appropriate antibiotic treatment of most common types of bacterial meningitis should reduce the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15 percent, the Web site says, although the risk is higher among the elderly.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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