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DHS news release

Jan. 9, 2006


Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (971) 673‑1282

Technical contact: Paul Cieslak, M.D. (971) 673-1111


Meningococcal cases should prompt vigilance, not alarm



Public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) said Monday that the recent meningitis death of a Yamhill County teen and reports of four additional cases in the greater Portland area do not indicate a widespread outbreak.


Four of the cases are linked through family and social networks and the other appears to be a separate illness, said Paul Cieslak, M.D., DHS communicable disease manager.


"This is the time of year when we typically see our highest number of meningitis cases," Cieslak said.  "We don't want the public to be alarmed, but parents should be vigilant.  Meningococcal disease is serious, and is fatal about 10 percent of the time."


Parents should watch for high fever, along with headache, stiff neck or a rash.  "If parents see these symptoms in their child, they should contact their health care provider immediately," Cieslak said. "Those who are treated promptly with antibiotics usually do well."


Meningococcal disease is not highly contagious, but close contacts of cases are at higher risk and should get antibiotics to prevent disease. Local public health nurses in Oregon investigate each case and recommend antibiotics as needed.


Meningococcal disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium that lives in the noses and throats of 5 percent to 10 percent of the population. It causes serious disease only if it enters the blood stream and spreads through the body.  Meningococcal meningitis occurs when Neisseria meningitidis causes inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord.


Smoking, or being exposed to passive smoke, is associated with a three-fold increased risk of getting serious disease, according to Cieslak. 


"Although meningococcal disease typically receives much attention, it still remains one of the rarer diseases," said Cieslak.  During all of 2005, 56 cases were reported statewide, compared with 61 during 2004.


In December 2005, six cases were reported, compared with seven the previous December.  Thus far in 2006, four cases have been reported, compared with 11 for the month of January 2005.