Meningitis case doesn’t alarm school officials | AspenTimes.com

Meningitis case doesn’t alarm school officials

Abigail Eagye

An employee at the Wildwood School began showing symptoms of spinal meningitis Aug. 11, but officials say the incident is no cause for alarm.John Pape, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said people with bacterial meningitis can exhibit a wide range of symptoms, from conjunctivitis, ear infections and sinusitis to pneumonia, and some people show no symptoms at all. If it spreads to the spinal cord, however, symptoms can be more severe, although Pape said the disease is generally not lethal in adults and can usually be treated with antibiotics.The disease had spread to the spinal cord of the Wildwood employee, who began experiencing severe pain that night. Her temperature rose rapidly, and she could barely move her neck. By Saturday night, she ranked her headache at 11 or 12 on a scale of one to 10, and her husband took her to the hospital.The woman was released from the hospital Tuesday night. By Wednesday, her fever had fallen to a manageable level, and she ranked her headache around three to five on the 10-point scale.Although the disease can have serious consequences if it invades the spinal cord, Pape said the likelihood of its spreading rapidly is small.”It’s kind of like a lightning strike,” he said. “You see a case here and a case there [but not] lots and lots of cases.”Pape said it would be nearly impossible to determine when and where the Wildwood employee contracted the illness.”It’s certainly something that could be contracted elsewhere” than the school, Pape said. “This is a bacteria she may have been carrying for days or weeks or months before she became ill.”Likewise, Pape had little concern that the illness would spread easily at the school.”You basically need pretty direct contact to transmit it,” he said. Just passing someone in the hall is not enough to contract the disease, and in this case, he said, there “shouldn’t be any alarm at all.”Because the woman is not a teacher at the school, her contact with the students is minimal.The Wildwood School is a preschool for children 212 to 5 years old.Pape said the disease poses the greatest threat to children younger than 4, but most children of preschool age have been immunized against the disease. Becky Helmus, director at Wildwood, said the school has been working with the state and local health departments to make sure all students have current vaccinations, and all of the students in July and August are up to date.”At this point, they just feel it’s an isolated incident,” she said.Helmus said she had received several calls, but most people were more concerned about the employee’s health than about the possibility of an outbreak at the school.For more information on vaccinations, go to the state health department’s website at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us and search for “immunization program.”The Pitkin County Community Health Services department offers vaccinations, immunizations and flu shots. For more information, call 920-5420.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com