Bus driver feels ill after potential exposure to bacterial meningitis

UPDATE: Lane County Health and Human Services is doing a standard and appropriate investigation of the possible case of meningococcal disease in Springfield. Laboratory results are still pending. Currently, Lane County Public Health says it's not concerned about elevated risk for students in the Springfield school district.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - A district bus driver reported feeling ill Thursday morning and was concerned about potential exposure to someone currently being tested for bacterial meningitis.

The bus driver was not alone. Two additional bus drivers shared the same concerns. All three think they were exposed outside of work.

Springfield School District sent a letter to all parents, notifying them of the concern. They also sent out an auto-dialer phone call informing parents the letter is posted online.

Springfield Public Schools communications specialist Devon Ashbridge said the district is working proactively with Lane County Public Health as they investigate the situation.

As of Thursday evening, Anne-Marie Levis with Lane County Public Health said given the investigation, LCPH is not concerned for an elevated risk for Nisseria Meningococcemia. They do not have the final test results, but they believe there is no connection to the cases at the University of Oregon.

Acting Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said, "Although this bacteria does not live on surfaces, we have hired a professional cleaning team to disinfect the buses driven by the drivers who may have been exposed and our Transportation Department building."

The drivers worked routes at:

Brattain Early Learning Center
Hamlin Middle School
Springfield High School
Thurston High School
Two Rivers-Dos Rios Elementary
Riverbend Elementary
The University of Oregon's A Child's Garden

State and county health officials have been responding to an outbreak of bacterial meningitis at the University of Oregon since January. To date, 7 people have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak, including one parent. A student athlete died as a result of the infection.

Symptoms and transmission

People with meningococcemia have the potential of infecting others, but the bacteria cannot live for more than a few minutes outside the body, according to health officials.

The disease is not spread as easily as the common cold or influenza. College student living conditions, however, contribute to the risk of spreading of the disease in student populations.

If you have an unexplained fever, headache or neck pain, please seek medical attention immediately, public health officials said. Meningococcal septicemia, or meningococcemia, is the more dangerous and deadly illness caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, according to the CDC.

When someone has meningococcal septicemia, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels and causing bleeding into the skin and organs.

Symptoms may include:

Cold hands and feet
Cold chills
Severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen (belly)
Rapid breathing
In the later stages, a dark purple rash (see photos)

"If you think you or your infant or child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away," the CDC says.

Transmission and Symptoms of Meningococcal Infection

Meningococcal infection is contagious and can progress very rapidly. The bacteria are spread person-to-person through the air by respiratory droplets (e.g., coughing, sneezing). The bacteria can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, such as kissing or sharing cups or utensils. It is not typically spread by bacteria left on surfaces or clothing, since the bacteria cannot live for more than a few minutes outside the body. Meningococcal infection is not spread as easily as the common cold or influenza.

Meningococcal bacteria attach to the mucosal lining of the nose and throat, where they can multiply. When the bacteria penetrate the mucosal lining and enter the bloodstream, they move quickly throughout the body and can cause damage to various organs.

Many people in a population can be a carrier of meningococcal bacteria (up to 11 percent) in the nose and back of the throat, and usually nothing happens to a person other than acquiring natural antibodies.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease often resemble those of the flu or other minor febrile illness, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose, and may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and confusion. Students who notice these symptoms - in themselves, friends, or others - especially if the symptoms are unusually sudden or severe, should contact their college health center or local hospital.

If not treated early, meningitis can lead to death or permanent disabilities. One in five of those who survive will suffer from long-term side effects, such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, or limb amputation.

Persons at Risk for the Disease, Including College Students

Meningococcal disease can affect people at any age. Infants are at the highest risk for getting the disease. Disease rates fall through later childhood but begin to rise again in early adolescence, peaking between the ages of 15 and 20 years.

Due to lifestyle factors, such as crowded living situations, bar patronage, active or passive smoking, irregular sleep patterns, and sharing of personal items, college students living in residence halls are more likely to acquire meningococcal disease than the general college population.

Prior to 1971, military recruits experienced high rates of meningococcal disease, particularly serotype C disease. The United States military now routinely vaccinates new recruits. Since the initiation of routine vaccination of recruits, there has been an 87 percent reduction in sporadic cases and a virtual elimination of outbreaks of invasive meningococcal disease in the military. Not all strains of the meningococcal bacteria are covered by the immunizations, therefore immunized people can still be susceptible to the infection.

In addition to increased risk because of crowded living situations, proximity to a person diagnosed with disease (e.g., being a household contact) also increases one's risk of disease. Other factors also increase risk, such as a compromised immune system (which might be caused by HIV/AIDS or taking certain chemotherapy or immunosuppressant) or having no spleen. Even something as simple as a respiratory tract infection may increase the risk of getting the disease. Certain genetic risk factors also may increase susceptibility to infection.

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