Two Arlington students contract meningitis

Two Arlington School District students are hospitalized with suspected cases of bacterial meningitis, Snohomish Health District officials said Wednesday. Both are in stable condition.

One student, who is 17, attends Arlington High School and the other, who is 16, attends Stillaguamish Valley School, a home school support program, said Misti Gilman, a school district spokeswoman.

“I did hear from the health district that they will be fine,” she said.

The students, who are friends, are being treated at Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington.

Although a public health investigation continues, as of Wednesday afternoon, there are no other suspected cases.

However, some close contacts of the students have been given antibiotics to try to prevent spread of the disease, said Amy Blanchard, a communicable disease program manager for the health district.

Tests to confirm that the two hospitalized students have bacterial meningitis will be conducted by the state Department of Health, she said.

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria that cause the disease lives in the nose and throat of 5 percent to 10 percent of healthy children and adults. Although they do not become ill, they can spread the infection to others.

“We aren’t sure why some people become ill,” Blanchard said. “The most important thing is good hygiene. It’s a serious disease, but it’s rare.”

It’s not easy to catch, and it’s transmitted only through direct contact. That could be from an infected person’s sneeze, or from their saliva. Common ways of catching it are from kissing, or sharing eating utensils, bottles or cigarettes.

“This is a good reminder that kids should not share their drinks with others,” Gilman said. “We’ve had reports of kids taking gum from their mouths and sharing it with others. That’s not only gross, but that’s how diseases are spread.”

The disease can be fatal and also can cause long-term health effects, such as brain damage, loss of hearing or loss of use of arms and legs.

Cases most often crop up in the late winter and early spring.

Snohomish County has four to five cases of bacterial meningitis a year, said Suzanne Pate, health district spokeswoman. Statewide, 30 to 60 cases are reported annually.

School district and public health officials worked to get word out Wednesday morning to students and parents about the suspected cases of meningitis.

A letter from the health district has been posted on Arlington High School’s Web site. Anyone who doesn’t have Internet access can call the school district for information, Gilman said.

Parents also got a telephone alert about the cases, she said.

The health district fielded phone calls from more than a dozen parents with sick children on Wednesday, worried that they may have the disease, too.

Symptoms are high fever, severe headache, vomiting and neck stiffness and discomfort looking into bright light. Some people also get a spotty pink rash.

Anyone with these symptoms should call their doctor immediately, Blanchard said.

A vaccine is available to help prevent disease. Although the shot is not required, “it is a choice for parents,” said Rita Mell a health district manager.

Children can get the shot beginning at age 11. It’s recommended for students before they begin their freshman year in college because of the close contact common to dorm living. Shots are available at area clinics and the Snohomish Health District.

Herald reporter Gale Fiege assisted with this report.

Sharon Salyer 425-339-3486 or


Here are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis:

High fever, severe headache, vomiting, neck stiffness and discomfort looking into bright light, which come on suddenly. Some people also get a spotty pink rash.

Anyone with these symptoms should call their doctor immediately.

Symptoms usually appear three to four days after exposure but in some cases people can be infected 10 days later.

Source: Snohomish Health District

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