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Five cases reported in Marion and Polk Parents urged to be aware of meningococcal symptoms

Five cases of Meningococcal disease have been reported within the last 16 days, according to public health officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services. Of these, three have been confirmed. Fo

SALEM -- Five cases of Meningococcal disease have been reported within the last 16 days, according to public health officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services. Of these, three have been confirmed. Four of the five cases occurred in Marion County and one in Polk County and all are children under the age of 5 years.

At this time, all of the children have been treated and are recovering, according to Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist at the Health Division.

"We don't want to alarm the public, but we want parents to be vigilant," says Kohn. "While Meningococcal disease is serious and can be fatal, children who are treated promptly recover with no long-term effects."

Signs parents should watch for include a high fever, headache, stiff neck and a rash. "If parents see these symptoms in their child, they should contact their health care provider immediately," Kohn says.

Meningococcal disease is not highly contagious, but close contacts of those who are infected may be at an elevated risk. The current cases are under investigation by the Health Division and Marion and Polk County Health Departments. At this time the cases do not appear to have a common link.

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

"Although Meningococcal disease has received much attention this year, it still remains one of the rarer diseases," says Kohn. Last year, 70 cases were reported in Oregon. This is a decrease of 50 percent since 1994, Kohn says.

Meningococcal Disease

Recent highly publicized cases of fatal meningococcal disease in Oregon have stimulated widespread citizen concern. The following are the facts about meningococcal disease in our state.

Meningococcal disease is serious and can be fatal, though 90%-95% of the people it infects recover with antibiotic therapy. Although Oregon's meningococcal disease rates remain above the national average, it is still uncommon here. In 2000, 70 cases were reported in Oregon (about 1 case for every 50,000 Oregonians). Case rates have been declining ever since 1994, when 136 cases were reported statewide (see statistics below).

Meningococcal vaccine is effective against four serogroups (A, C, Y, and W-135) of Neisseria meningitidis, the bacterium that causes meningococcal disease. Unfortunately, most cases of meningococcal disease in Oregon are caused by serogroup B, a strain not covered by the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine would not prevent most of our cases.

This is true for college students, too, among whom the disease is rare. A total of six cases occurred in Oregon college students between 1993 and 1999, or about 0.7 cases per 100,000 college students per year _ less than the statewide average. Of these six cases, three were caused by serogroup B, and so were not vaccine-preventable. The risk of vaccine-preventable meningococcal disease, is, therefore, low among Oregon college students. The cost of the vaccine is high _ about $70 per dose. College freshmen who want to reduce their already low risk can consider getting meningococcal vaccine if they think it is worth the cost.

Meningococcal disease is not highly contagious. Close contacts of cases (household members, day-care-center classroom contacts, close friends) are at elevated risk of disease; after a case occurs, these persons should take antibiotics to prevent the infection. School classmates, those living in other dormitory rooms, and health-care workers attending the case are generally not at elevated risk.

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