Originally created 04/02/97

Richmond meningitis case appears to be isolated



A child at a Richmond County day-care center was hospitalized last week with meningitis, prompting a mass vaccination of his classmates, health officials said.

Telephone calls went out Friday night from the Richmond County Health Department warning parents that a child at Goshen Day Care and Learning Center, 1665 Goshen Road, had been hospitalized for meningococcal meningitis, a type of bacterial meningitis, officials said.

The health department provided preventive treatment for classmates of the 18-month-old boy and for day-care workers who were in contact with him, said Frank Rumph, director of the department's East Central Health District. The antibiotic Rifampin can be used as an oral vaccine and remains effective for two to three years, according to the state Department of Human Resources.

The boy remained at University Hospital on Tuesday and was doing "OK," Dr. Rumph said.

No other cases of meningitis have been reported among the child's classmates, he said.

Betty Simpkins, director of the day-care center, referred questions to the owners of the center, whom she wouldn't identify.

Messages left with Ms. Simpkins were not returned Tuesday evening.

The incident shouldn't affect the day-care center's license or status as a provider of the pre-k program, said officials with the state office of school readiness, which oversees day-care centers with pre-k programs.

"As far as I know, everything was handled properly," said Greg Peterson, an official with the regulatory program. "The day-care center acted responsibly and contacted the health department, and the proper people are handling this."

Officials don't know where the boy contracted the infection, which is caused by common bacteria, Dr. Rumph said.

The same bacteria cause upper respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis or sore throats. Meningitis is spread through coughing, sneezing or sharing cups and spoons, just like a cold, said Dr. Richard Eckert, medical director of University Hospital's emergency room.

"It's the same bug that's been there (in the building) for the last 50 years," Dr. Eckert said. "It's the same bug that will give the next child a cold. But for some reason, in this child, it went on and developed into meningitis."

Meningitis occurs when the bacteria infect the tissues around the brain, known as meninges, the doctor said. Symptoms include vomiting, headaches, a stiff neck and a high fever, but the infection may have less obvious symptoms, he said.

"It can be as simple as a high fever and a runny nose, and a couple of hours later, they have rip-roaring meningitis and die," he said.

The infection is treatable if it's caught early enough, although a few people don't respond to the antibiotics, Dr. Eckert said. He said people who have weak immune systems are left more vulnerable to the infection.

Teaching children to wash their hands often can prevent the spread of the infection, he said. A child who develops symptoms, particularly if they appear suddenly or after exposure to the infection, should receive immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms of meningitis usually appear three to 10 days after exposure.