Students vaccinated after meningitis outbreak

The recent death of 15-year-old North Lawndale College Prep sophomore Laquesh Reed due to meningitis has scared parents, a school official said. “We’re just trying to let parents know it’s safe,” the official, who requested not to be identifie

Reed and Miller lived near each other in the Austin community. Austin is not far from NLCP, where the year’s first meningitis fatalities%uFFFDa 1-year-old boy and a 37- year-old woman%uFFFD occurred, Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Tim Hadac said. The CDPH has launched a massive vaccination effort among West Side students.

“We are sending all the children between 11 and 18 home with all the info sheets, notification forms, all the things they need to give these injections in the schools,” Hadac said. “We want to do 60 schools over the next couple weeks, just in those two neighbors on the West Side%uFFFD Austin and Lawndale%uFFFDbecause that’s where the numbers are showing an increase in disease,” he added. CDPH held a vaccination at Young Elementary School, 1434 N. Parkside Ave., last week, because the school is close to where Reed and Miller lived. “Each had a sibling or two attending Young Elementary.

This is where the disease transmission, happened to be occurring, in that neighborhood,” Hadac said. Hadac stressed that the concentration of cases on the city’s West Side is not a reflection of the community, and he noted that the city’s last meningitis outbreak occurred in 2003, among gay white men on the North Side.

“People touch each other, people kiss each other, people share things that are put in the mouth; girls share lipstick, people share cigarettes, people share pop. There’s a lot of saliva-to-saliva contact, and that’s how this type of bacteria spread. It has nothing to do with income or socio-economic status%uFFFDit’s bacteria,” he said. The bacteria that causes meningitis%uFFFD neisseria meningitides%uFFFD is common, and is carried nasally by 10 percent of the population.

Ninety percent of the time, a carrier’s immune system will block the bacteria. However, if it infects, the bacteria inflames the lining of the brain and spinal column (known as the meninges) or develops into a massive blood infection (meningococcemia). The symptoms of meningitis%uFFFD fever and listlessness%uFFFDare the same as the common cold, but the disease’s telltale sign is a stiff neck. However, the disease progresses so rapidly that by the time a person feels a stiff neck, it is often too late.

“That’s why vaccination is so important. You can’t wait until you see the symptoms,” Hadac said, noting that some victims die within 24 hours. A meningitis vaccine was released to the public in 2005, but was not required for school entry.

Hadac said that the CDPH is “sold” on making the vaccine a school requirement, but the decision lies in the hands of state lawmakers. According to CDPH reports, Chicago had one case of meningitis and one fatality in 2006, and 13 cases and two fatalities in 2007. So far, in 2008, there have been 10 cases, and four fatalities.

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