Tammy Turner and her daughter Devin (6) wait in line for a vaccination for meningitis at Oologah-Talala Public School March 11, 2010. Devin is in kindergarten at the school. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Experts say the outbreak is unusual.
Lauri Smithee, the state Health Department’s acute disease service chief, has not seen an outbreak of this magnitude since she became an epidemiologist in 1990. Four of the children infected were in one classroom, two others were in another classroom at the school and the latest case was older and likely in a separate classroom.
"It’s definitely rare, even on the national level,” Smithee said.
Bradley and Smithee said the Health Department immediately began investigating the outbreak, and on Thursday and Friday they administered 846 doses of antibiotics through clinics held at the school.
They said the Health Department acted properly because hitting the students and others with antibiotics did the best job of quickly cutting the risk. The benefits of vaccinations won’t immediately help, they said.
Frankie Milley, founder of the Meningitis Angels support group, flew from her Texas headquarters to Oklahoma to support the families and said she, too, was concerned that vaccinations weren’t given to those at the school. She said the Texas Health Department got 45,000 people vaccinated within three days after an outbreak in 2001.
"This is a wake-up call not only for Oklahoma but the whole United States,” said Milley, who lost her 18-year-old son, Ryan, to the disease. "The bacteria doesn’t stop at the dorm room door.”
The respiratory bacteria causing the disease is found only in humans and is passed through saliva through activities such as sharing a water bottle or kissing. Exactly how it got started in the school is unknown, but Andrew Gregory Thomas, 7, and Shuache Moua, 8, died from the disease, school officials announced last Thursday.