SKIPPACK — The Montgomery County Health Department has confirmed that a third-grade student at Skippack Elementary School has been clinically diagnosed with the type of infection which can lead to bacterial meningitis.
The case was reported to the health department on Tuesday, according to a letter that was sent to parents later that day.
The letter was provided to 21st Century Media by the Montgomery County communications office.
“Montgomery County Health Department and the Perkiomen Valley School District staff have been working in collaboration to identify close social contacts. Students and staff who have had close social contact (such as exposure to saliva by sharing drinks, food, utensils, kissing, or direct face to face exposure to sneezing and coughing droplets of the patient) should receive a prophylactic antibiotic (usually Rifampin) without delay,” the letter said.
The infection is caused by a specific type of bacterium and may result in bacterial meningitis, which is the inflammation of the lining of the brain, according to a fact sheet sent issued by the health department.
In less than 1 percent of the infections, it can cause a generalized infection of the bloodstream called “meningococcemia,” which is often fatal, according to the health department.
A wide range of symptoms are possible, depending on the type of infection and the age of the patient.
General symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, sudden onset of fever or chills, severe fatigue, joint pain and loss of consciousness.
Those infections which result in meningitis can cause severe headache, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and purple spots on wrists, ankles, armpits and groin.
Those spots often start as a cluster of tiny blood spots, which appear like pin-pricks under the skin and gradually become darker and darker in color, often resembling bruises, the heath department fact sheet said.
Babies and infants with a meningococcal infection may experience fever with cold hands and feet, vomiting, refusal to eat, high pitched crying, dislike of being handled, neck retraction, staring expression, difficulty waking and a pale or blotchy complexion.
The bacteria does not live long outside the body and only those who have close direct contact to an infected individual are at risk of developing the infection, according to the fact sheet.
The medication being recommended by the health department prevents close those who have had social contact with the infected person from becoming seriously ill, the letter said.
The medication’s side effects include urine and body fluids temporarily turning orange in color. This is normal, according to the letter.
“Persons with contact lenses should not wear them during the course of antibiotic therapy to prevent staining of the lenses. There may be minor discomforts (upset stomach, slight diarrhea, nausea) from the prophylactic treatment,” according to the letter.
According to a message posted on the school district’s website, Principal Ryan Stanson-Marsh sent out the email letter and fact sheet to parents Tuesday afternoon after being notified of the infection.
“He has also followed up this morning with communication to staff and parents about this incident,” the message said.
“While classrooms and bathrooms are cleaned every night by the school’s custodial staff, additional steps will be taken today during the school day to thoroughly disinfect the building,” said the district message.
“Extra staff is being added to clean building surfaces (desks, chairs, door handles, water fountains, etc.). The operations department is also working with the district’s transportation provider to assure the safety of students on buses” and school nurses will monitor students for symptoms, according to the district.
The district also noted that although they cannot release the identity of the infected student, “health care providers will be able to conduct a brief interview to determine whether or not a child may need to receive the prophylactic antibiotic. Parents may contact the health department at 610-278-5117 or call their health care provider for more information.”
Montgomery County spokesperson Jessica Willingham told 21st Century Media this is the first reported meningococcal infection case of 2014.
In 2013, there were three cases, all in adults over age 50, all of whom survived, she wrote in an email.
Other than medication, the health department recommends the following for preventing the spread of the infection:
• covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing,
• not sharing eating or drinking items,
• frequent hand washing and
• maintaining a healthy lifestyle of balanced diet, rest, and exercise.