May 04 2011Earlier this week, state public health nurses in Craig reported a confirmed case of bacterial meningococcal infection in a Craig teenager. The youth was hospitalized on Sunday, May 1, and since then has improved because of the rapid diagnosis and treatment. So far there has been one other possible case, and that person has been medically transported for further treatment. Employees at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Alicia Roberts Medical Center, the Craig Public Health Center, the PeaceHealth Craig Clinic and the Alaska Section of Epidemiology have notified and treated more than 35 people who had close contact with the infected youth. Even though there have been one confirmed and one possible case of bacterial meningococcal infection in Craig, it should be safe for people to have casual contact with each other and for students to attend school. Bacterial meningococcal infections are rare, and usually only are found in people who have had close contact with someone else with the infection. Close contact means people living in the same household, or people who have shared saliva or other bodily fluids through kissing or by sharing drinks, cigarettes, pipes (tobacco or marijuana), needles, etc. Casual contact at school, local businesses and other people’s homes is not considered close contact. A bacterial meningococcal infection can be quite serious, and potentially deadly, so people should remain alert to the symptoms — fever, severe sudden headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, pain in the shoulders and back, and/or a red pinpoint rash. High fever and irritability are symptoms found in very young children. Symptoms may appear within one to 10 days of exposure, and usually appear within the first three to four days. A bacterial meningococcal infection usually is more severe than viral meningitis, which has similar symptoms. If not treated in time, bacterial meningococcal infections can lead to severe brain damage, hearing loss, the amputation of fingers and toes, and even death. Certain antibiotics are very effective in treating bacterial meningococcal infections, and the earlier the infection is diagnosed and treated the better. There also is a vaccine available through the state’s Vaccines for Children program (for people up to age 18) that can prevent the disease. Anybody experiencing symptoms should seek immediate treatment at one of the three major clinics in the Klawock/Craig end of Prince of Wales Island — the SEARHC Alicia Roberts Medical Center in Klawock (755-4800), the PeaceHealth Craig Clinic (826-3257) or the Craig Public Health Center (826-3433). The clinics also should have information on vaccine availability.