Houston Suburb Faces Meningitis Outbreak

HOUSTON, Texas-Health officials are scrambling to control a rare American meningitis outbreak.

Since October at least 18 people have been treated with the bacterial infection. Two have died of the disease this month. Concern was raised last year when research showed Houston had the lowest meningitis vaccination rate in the country. Doctors were worried because the city's major port and airline hub make it vulnerable to diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the outbreak Thursday. Montgomery County, north of Houston, has 11 reported cases. Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, has two cases.

Meningitis can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection. It is an infection of spinal fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Officials blame the Houston outbreak on a bacterial strain, which is the more serious form. The infection can be caused by either Streptococcus pneumoniae or Neisseria meningitis. Both forms are contagious through respiratory and throat secretions, but not causal contact or simply breathing the same air as an infected patient.

Symptoms include sudden fever, intense headache, stiff neck and nausea. Meningitis can cause brain damage.

The Texas Department of Health is organizing vaccinations for school children in the area. More than 8,000 people line up Saturday outside New Caney Middle School in Porter, Texas, 25 miles north of Houston.

Information from the Associated Press and www.cdc.gov