|Updated: 2/14/2012 7:02 pm
||Published: 2/14/2012 6:58 pm
For the second time in two days, a child in Green Country has been diagnosed with meningitis, and concern among parents is growing.
The latest case involves a student at Union Public Schools' Jefferson Elementary School. The first was a four-month-old boy from Mannford who died over the weekend.
Neither case has been officially confirmed as meningitis.
Union Public Schools sent a letter home to Jefferson Elementary parents Monday, describing symptoms and precautions to take to protect their kids against the illness.
But the letter sparked concern for many of the parents.
"I'm hoping that it's not going to infect anybody else," Teresa Dekker, a nanny for a Jefferson student, said. "I hope it doesn't get around the school."
Dekker says she's glad the district took a proactive approach to addressing the problem by sending the letter to parents. But that letter doesn't take away the worry that Scott Warick is feeling. He has two kids at Jefferson.
"Well, gosh, we know what it can do to a kid, and it kind of grabs you by the heart and you think gosh, should we bring our kids to school today, or should we take a day off and keep the kids home, keep them safe," Warick said.
Jefferson Elementary principal Kim Wilson was worried other families would feel the same way and keep their kids home. Surprisingly, though, Wilson said only 16 students were out of class Tuesday, fewer than normal.
Still, Wilson knows parents are uneasy.
"[We want] to assure parents that their child's safety is our utmost concern," Wilson said.
The infected student went home sick from school last Tuesday. Over the weekend, the child's parents called Wilson and told her the child was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, an illness that can damage internal organs, flesh and other tissue, destroy limbs, and even cause death.
After Wilson received word of the diagnosis, she says crews thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected the entire school. Health officials say that's the best and only thing the school can do.
"Meningitis is not something that goes around like the flu or strep throat or something like that," Alicia Plati, Director of Health Data and Evaluation for the Tulsa Health Department, said. "You cannot catch meningitis from a casual contact. It has to be a prolonged contact."
"A kid who's sitting at a lunch table with somebody, and then goes to another classroom, and then goes out to recess is not what we consider a high risk, because it's not a prolonged, enclosed contact."
Plati says there are some things kids can do to put themselves at higher risk, though.
"If you're coughing, or kissing, or, you know, if you spit in your hand and put it in somebody else's mouth or something like that," she said.
On Monday and Tuesday, teachers at Jefferson worked with students to make sure they knew the proper way to wash their hands. They also taught them to sneeze or cough into their elbow to avoid exchange of saliva.
Dekker is teaching the same habits at home.
"We have a lot of anti-bacterial soaps in our house, and we make sure that she washes her hands and everything," she said. "Yeah, that was pretty scary."
Michaela Mitchell knows that fear, and the devastation meningitis can cause all too well.
"It breaks my heart," she said. "I've been there and I know the feeling. And, yeah, I've been in tears this morning."
It's been two years since Mitchell's eight-year-old son, Jeremiah, got meningitis at school in Oologah.
"It's a sick disease," Mitchell said. "It's not a go to the doctor, it's a go to the emergency room. It's not a wait. You know, in less than 12 hours your baby's gonna be gone. And at least I didn't lose Jeremiah, but we lost a lot of parts of Jeremiah."
Jeremiah lost all of his limbs, and had extensive damage to skin and tissue all over his body after his fight with meningitis.
At this point, Plati says other parents at Jefferson Elementary probably have little to worry about, but encourages them to still watch their children closely for any of the symptoms.
"[For kids over the age of two] we're really talking about the stiffness of neck, the headache, a fever, and then some sensitivity to light, or nausea, vomiting, dizziness," Plati said.
Since babies under the age of two can't vocally express feeling those symptoms, parents should pay especially close attention for other symptoms.
"We may look more for lethargy in an infant, or a non-interest in feeding. They will have some of the same vomiting or diarrhea-type symptoms."
Even though many of the symptoms are the same as with the flu or a sinus infection, if your child shows any symptoms it's better to be safe and get them to a doctor as soon as possible, because every second lost is more time for meningitis to take over.
"Don't panic, and get your babies checked," Mitchell said. "It's worth it. The money is no object when you're talking about a baby's life, whether your baby is a newborn or whether your baby is 80."
There's another easy test many health professional recommend. If your child has a fever and/or any other meningitis symptoms, have them bend their neck and see if they can touch their chin to their chest. If they can't do that in addition to the fever and other symptoms, get them to the emergency room immediately.
There is a meningitis vaccine children can get starting at two months old. Plati recommends parents checking with their child's pediatrician to see if that is a good option.