WINDHAM — School officials believe around 20 students may have been exposed to meningococcal meningitis after a Windham High School student tested positive for the disease.
School Superintendent Henry LaBranche said the district is working closely with the state Department of Health and Human Services to make sure correct information is readily available for parents, students and staff. The infected student, who wasn't identified, is recovering from the illness, LaBranche said Monday.
"This student is alert and is responding well to antibiotics," he said.
The infected student was released from the intensive care unit Monday afternoon and will likely by released from the hospital by the end of the week, Principal Tom Murphy said.
All inside areas of the high school were sanitized over the weekend, and using information provided by school officials, state health workers contacted the families of any students who might have been exposed to the disease.
LaBranche said those families were notified Friday and Saturday, and any students who may have been exposed will be offered preventative antibiotics.
School officials also attended a phone conference with the state Division of Public Health Services Sunday. "We were assured it was safe to open the schools today," he said.
On Monday morning, students were provided with information on the disease and how it is and isn't spread. Parents throughout the district were notified of the high school student's possible infection Friday afternoon.
Unlike the viral form of the disease, meningococcal, or bacterial, meningitis is spread only through close contact with an infected person's saliva.
According to information provided by the state health department, casual contact with an infected person doesn't typically pose an increased risk.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, epidemiologist for the state Division of Public Health Services, said it's very important for those who test positive for the disease to obtain treatment "as early as possible" to avoid further complications. However, she stressed that most classmates of the infected student aren't in any immediate danger.
"Someone 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," Alroy-Preis said, noting that typical methods of infection are kissing and sharing eating utensils.
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.
Parents with questions or concerns about meningitis are encouraged to contact the state health department at 1-800-852-3345.