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Meningitis case creates stir in Monessen

| Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, 8:15 a.m.

A Monessen Middle School student was diagnosed with viral meningitis over the weekend, prompting officials to thoroughly disinfect the high school/middle school complex, according to Superintendant Linda Marcolini.

The district sent letters home with students Monday, notifying parents about the case.

The packages told the parents that “all classrooms, bathrooms and cafeteria (were) thoroughly cleaned” on Sunday, and contained fact sheets about the illness.

Parents of elementary students were also notified that the student in question was not schooled at the elementary center, as had been rumored.

A maintenance crew wiped down everything from doorknobs to urinals to drinking fountains on Sunday, in addition to setting off an undetermined number of disinfectant aerosol “bombs”, Marcolini said.

“Once it's airborne, it dies, so that's a good thing, but we still took all the precautions,” Marcolini said. “After that was done, school resumed as normal (Monday).”

Marcolini said Principal Brian Sutherland had confirmed the case – which is much less serious than the bacterial form of meningitis – Saturday via phone after contacting Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“We had to try and get verification and, due to HIPPA laws, Mr. Sutherland put the pressure on them and he finally talked to the parent and confirmed the case,” Marcolini said. “The student was hospitalized overnight, treated with viral medication and released on Sept. 15.”

The student is now home and will be permitted to return to school pending full recovery, Marcolini said.

Viral meningitis is generally less severe than bacterial meningitis, which can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disability.

More than 85 percent of viral meningitis cases are caused by enteroviruses, which are most often spread from person to person through fecal contamination (which can occur when changing a diaper or using the toilet and not properly washing hands afterwards).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 9,000 cases of viral meningitis are reported nationally every year,.

But accurate figures are difficult to gather because many mild cases may not even be reported and testing is much less accurate, according to a spokesman for the CDC.

The most common ways to prevent the spread of meningitis is to wash your hands — particularly after using the bathroom — and not sharing drinking glasses, water bottles or eating utensils or exchanging kisses with someone who may be ill.

“It was kind of a shocker because you read about it and hear about it other places, but everyone did their part and handled it quickly and professionally,” Marcolini said. “Safety is always our number one concern, that's for sure.”

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