A potentially deadly strain of bacterial meningitis with an affinity for the Northwest has cropped up in North Idaho, health officials said Thursday.
Health workers will offer free antibiotics Sunday and Monday to all students at Betty Keifer Elementary School in Rathdrum, where a fourth-grader and sixth-grader were diagnosed with meningitis.
“If it’s caught early enough, the treatment is very effective,” said Idaho state epidemiologist Jesse Greenblatt.
Two girls at the school recently came down with the illness, he said. Both were hospitalized.
“The district is very, very concerned,” said Ron Schmidt, assistant superintendent of the Lakeland School District.
So are Idaho health officials, who worry that parents will ignore the flu-like symptoms of the potentially fatal illness, since this is flu season.
Greenblatt said five cases of meningitis have been diagnosed in North Idaho since October.
“This is very aggressive strategy that we are proposing to the school district,” he said.
Last year, Greenblatt said, North Idaho had only one case all year.
The two Betty Kiefer school students are from Hauser, Idaho. They rode the same school bus. Two other cases were in Coeur d’Alene and one in Plummer, Idaho.
One of the Hauser girls is nine-year-old Ramie Carey.
Carey seemed fine when she went to bed Sunday night, despite a recent bout of the flu, her mother said.
“She woke up at two or three in the morning,” Pauline Carey said. “She had a headache, vomiting and fever.”
By the time the family’s medical clinic opened the next morning, the girl’s temperature was 108 degrees. Later that day, her parents took her to the hospital.
“I was afraid she was going to die - and so was she,” said Pauline Carey.
The fever broke Wednesday, as intravenous antibiotics attacked the illness.
“She’s not the best after what’s happened, but she’s doing better,” Carey said from her daughter’s hospital room at Kootenai Medical Center.
“I just hope no other little kids get this,” she said. “Parents have got to be careful. I thought she had the flu. Just don’t give the children aspirin and go to bed.”
The illness is caused by infection with the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. It’s spread by droplets of saliva or mucus, such as those released by coughing or sneezing. Patients are typically quarantined until 24 hours after the first antibiotics are given.
Symptoms, Greenblatt said, are nearly identical to the flu, but more severe and long-lasting. They include a runny nose, cough, fever or headache. The infection sometimes causes a rash or sore, stiff neck.
Of those that contract the illness, 5 percent to 10 percent die, Greenblatt said. The most vulnerable are children under age 2.
So how worried should people be?
“In Hauser Lake, moderately,” said Greenblatt, “In the rest of the area, not necessarily very much.”
Two weeks ago, Idaho health officials vaccinated 2,500 children in Rigby after three meningitis cases there, Greenblatt said.
Unfortunately, the Hauser bacteria are “strain B,” for which there is no vaccine, he said. Strain B meningitis bacteria were first reported in Oregon in 1992, and have since turned up in increasing numbers of infections in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, he said.
The Coeur d’Alene and Plummer cases involve strain A. Anyone who had close contact with those inflicted with the illness have been given antibiotics, Greenblatt said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FREE ANTIBIOTICS The antibiotics are for Betty Kiefer Elementary School students only, and will be given out at the school on Sunday from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. and on Monday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Students must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Although the drug must be taken for two days, students only need to pick up medication once. Anyone with questions should call their family doctor or Panhandle Health District in Coeur d’Alene at 667-3481.