After Oologah outbreak, Oklahoma to give vaccinations

BY SONYA COLBERG Modified: March 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm •  Published: March 16, 2010

/> The Health Department late Monday confirmed that a female teenager in the Oologah-Talala Public Schools also has developed meningococcal disease, increasing the number of cases to seven. 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.

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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.

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seventh student has disease

The Rogers County and state Health Departments confirmed Monday that a seventh student in the Oologah-Talala School District has developed meningococcal disease.

"It is complicated because we have found no direct contact between this case and the other cases,” said Leslea Bennett-Webb, state Health Department spokeswoman.

Officials confirmed that she is in high school and is the first Oologah-Talala student outside of the elementary school to be infected.

The six Oologah-Talala students who contracted meningococcal disease last week were members of just two elementary school classes — one

kindergarten and the other second-grade.

Public health officials stressed that the general public is not at risk. Only people with close, personal contact to someone with a meningococcal infection have a slightly increased risk of developing the disease, according to a news release.

Family members and close contacts of the latest case will be able to receive antibiotics at a special clinic today at the Rogers County Health Department, 2664 N State Highway 88 in Claremore.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease may appear two to 10 days after infection. People ill with meningococcal septicemia may have fever, nausea, vomiting and a rash. People ill with meningitis will have fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck.

Sonya Colberg, Staff Writer

Kim Archer, Tulsa World

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