The Tuscarawas Health Department is sending a message to the public amid concerns following two bacterial meningitis-related deaths.
Health Commissioner Katie Seward is stressing that the County is not facing an epidemic and that the general public has no reason to panic.
She explained there are two categories of Meningitis, viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis is typically more treatable and results in fewer deaths.
The two local cases have both been bacterial meningitis, however; Seward noted there are many different types of bacteria and then within each kind of bacteria there are different sub types.
“It can get a little confusing,” said Seward. “But, I want to make it known that preliminary reports are telling us that the two cases here in Tuscarawas County are unrelated because they come from two different types of bacteria.”
The initial case was from a bacteria known as streptococcus pneumonia, a bacteria that lives in the back of the throat. It is often spread through either respiratory droplets or viral secretion.
“Healthy people can carry it around and it never cause any problem,” she explained. “It can cause things like sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia and then sometimes it can progress in individuals, for unknown reasons, to meningitis. Sometimes it’s in very young individuals, sometimes it’s in those over 65, sometimes it’s in those with weakened immune systems. So, there’s something else going on that is allowing that bacteria to manifest into a severe form of the disease.”
Based on preliminary results, officials believe the second case came from Group B bacteria, which tends to exist in a person’s intestines and stomach area. It is also a bacteria our bodies carry naturally.
“The likelihood of transmission for the Group B bacteria to cause meningitis in someone else from the symptomatic person is low,” added Seward.
Seward noted that while there are members of the population who are at a higher risk of developing bacterial meningitis there are still unique cases that show up.
“Where they don’t fit that mold and why it happens sometimes can’t be answered,” she said. “But the literature and the research shows us the most at risk groups.”
And again those are children under two, individuals over 65 and those with compromised immune systems.
So, how can you protect yourself and your family?
1.) Recognize the signs and symptoms.
2.) Practice frequent and thorough hand washing skills.
3.) Use hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water.
4.) Seek age-appropriate vaccines.
Seward clarified misinformation that is making its way around the County. She noted the rumors suggesting the meningitis or meningococcal vaccine only protects against viral meningitis.
“That is not the case.” Said Seward. “It does protect against the different bacteria that can lead to meningitis.”
She did say however; in the initial case caused by streptococcal pneumonia, the meningococcal vaccine would not have protected the individual. The pneumonia vaccine would have been the protecting factor in that incident.
“Typically the pneumonia vaccine is only given to very young children or individuals over the age of 65,” she said. “So, if you want to take an extra leap of precaution and become vaccinated against pneumonia, that could add an extra layer of protection from the bacteria streptococcal pneumonia.”
At times elective vaccines are not covered by insurance providers.
In routine pediatrics visits, if a parent approves vaccines, both the pneumonia vaccine and the meningococcal vaccines are standard.
Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, stiff neck and back, nausea and or vomiting. If you are not feeling well, especially if you have come in contact with one of the individuals who recently succumbed to the disease, the health department is urging you to seek medical attention.
Now, Seward stressed the rapid onset of bacterial meningitis and encouraged the public to simply be aware and cautious.
“While treatment is essential, sometimes because the symptoms come on so fast and so severe there’s no time for that.”
Seward noted the bacteria that cause meningitis are not very robust. Meaning, things that cause the Norovirus and the flu virus, for example, are actually more likely to be contracted than the bacteria that cause meningitis.
She added that despite the recent tragedies, Tuscarawas County is not facing a bacterial meningitis epidemic.
In 2016, Ohio saw 134 cases of bacterial meningitis resulting in seven total deaths. So far for 2017, Ohio has seen 139 bacterial meningitis cases resulting in nine deaths including the two recent cases locally.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention features and organized age chart that indicates what vaccines children should receive at what age.
Michaela Madison Reporting