OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The case of a high school student in King County who was hospitalized and died earlier this month of meningococcal disease commonly called bacterial meningitis has created some public concern about risks of exposure to the disease.
"Meningococcal disease is spread by prolonged close contact," said State Epidemiologist for Communicable Disease, Jo Hofmann, MD. "The risk, even for people who have been in contact with this young man, is low."
The high school student was a football player who participated in a football practice at Bothell High School on July 5, 2004, and became ill after practice. He also attended a football camp at Eastern Washington University June 26-30, 2004. The investigation shows that only a few players all from his team were identified as close contacts, and players from other teams are not at risk.
The young man is believed to have had close contact with 15 people while he was infectious. The Washington State Department of Health is working with Public Health Seattle and King County have notified the close contacts of the student, and they are receiving antibiotics as a precaution. Close contacts are considered housemates or family members; those who have shared eating, drinking, or smoking materials; and those who have had intimate contact with an infected individual within seven days of the onset of symptoms of the infected person.
Meningococcal disease is spread through direct personal contact such as sharing the same drinking glass or kissing with nasal or throat secretions of a carrier or ill person. The organism cannot be spread simply by being in the same room with an infected person. Most people exposed to the meningococcal bacteria do not become ill; others can develop fever, cough, runny nose, intense headache, stiff neck, and unusual skin lesions. There may be a fine spotty pink rash that progresses to dark patches.
Some people develop infections of the blood or brain, which can be fatal. Even with treatment, about 5 percent of meningococcal cases are fatal. Up to 25 percent of patients who recover have chronic damage to the nervous system. There are typically 75 to 125 cases of meningococcal disease in Washington each year. From January through May 2004, there have been 16 cases reported. This is the first Washington death resulting from meningococcal disease reported in 2004.
Many diseases can be prevented through practicing good hygiene; for example, refraining from sharing water bottles or eating utensils, and thoroughly washing hands after sneezing, coughing or using the restroom.
Source: Washington State Department of Health