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February 01. 2013 6:07PM

Windham High School student may have meningitis

SALEM - A Windham High School student is being treated for symptoms of meningococcal meningitis, school officials confirmed Friday afternoon. In an email sent to parents Friday, Principal Tom Murphy said the student was suspected of having the disease, though he declined to offer further details, citing the need to protect that student's privacy.

Murphy said the state Department of Health and Human Services has been contacted and state health officials are currently assessing the situation. Unlike the viral form of the disease, meningococcal, or bacterial meningitis, is spread through close contact with an infected person's saliva.

According to information provided by the state DHHS, casual contact with an infected person doesn't typically pose an increased risk. Murphy said state health officials would be contacting students and staff members believed to have been in close contact with the infected student as preventative antibiotics can be given as a safeguard against potential infection.

Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis typically include fever, headache, abnormal tiredness, neck stiffness or pain and a purple, splotchy rash. State health officials stressed that cases of the bacterial form of the illness remain pretty rare: typically there are fewer than a dozen cases, on average, in the state each year.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, epidemiologist for the state Division of Public Health Services said that number has been lower than average in recent years, with about three confirmed cases in the past year alone. Still, she stressed, "its important to remember that this is the type of meningitis that's contagious."

Alroy-Preis said she couldn't comment on specifics of the Windham case, though noted that most of that student's classmates aren't in any immediate danger. "We're talking close contact: kissing, sharing eating utensils or water bottles," she said. "A classmate who sat near this person in study hall isn't at risk. Even though this disease is very contagious, it isn't spread by air."

This past October, a Londonderry High School teacher was diagnosed with viral meningitis.

Another faculty member was diagnosed with the disease in early December. Both have since recovered from the illness, Londonderry school officials said. Parents with questions or concerns about meningitis are encouraged to contact the state DHH at 1-800-852-3345.



aguilmet@newstote.com


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