Vaccination recommended for 5,800 students in Ohio
CANTON, Ohio (AP) – The state Health Department decided Tuesday to vaccinate up to 5,800 high school students to protect them from a meningitis-related 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, a northeastern Ohio city of 23,000.
”Our job is to err on the side of conservatism,” said Nick Baird, director of the Health Department. The state will cover the $55 cost per shot.
In an outbreak that has spread fear and confusion in the Alliance area, two 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. Officials suspect the two shared a water bottle at a school picnic last month.
On Saturday, Christin Van Camp, 18, a student at another high school, was diagnosed with the same kind of blood infection.
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.
Over the weekend, thousands of people in the Alliance area lined up 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.
A decision on immunization is based on the number of infections in a community. In a town the size of Alliance, three infections would be the minimum required under guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the past week, people around the blue-collar city 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.
Before ordering vaccinations, authorities wanted to know if the hospitalized victim has the same strain of bacteria as the teens who died. But after the test results were delayed by a paperwork foul-up, the Health Department decided Tuesday to go ahead with the shots without waiting.
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 on Tuesday.
FedEx 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.
As for the package from Akron being turned away, Munoz said, ”obviously it is upsetting for us, because our employees are members of your community.”
The hospitalized young woman, Van Camp, was comatose when she was sent to Akron on Saturday, but her doctors said she is expected to recover.
Her 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.
”I’ve always tried not to inflict my fears on my kids,” Franks said. ”But I try to keep them protected.”
When her daughter returns home, Franks said, she will have to fight the impulse to be overprotective: ”It’ll be kind of hard for me to watch her walk out the door.”
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