Kern County sees rise in meningitis cases

Katherine J. White
February 21, 2008
Filed under Features

Kern County has seen an “alarming degree” of meningitis cases.
This is what Dr. Claudia Jonah, interim health officer of Kern County, had to say about the local meningitis epidemic.
According to Jonah, in one recent eight-week period ending in late January, Kern County suffered 11 cases of meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord that can cause brain damage and even death.
Typically, symptoms manifest themselves between three to four days after an individual has made contact with the bacteria that leads to the malady. According to Jonah, symptoms include severe headache, nausea, accompanied by vomiting, as well as fever, rash and neck stiffness.
So far, no actual deaths have occurred, but the number reported within just a few weeks prompted the department to notify the public. Reported sufferers range in age from 1 to 72, with four women, three men and three children. Four of these patients required hospital care and were listed in serious condition.
Jonah mentioned that the cases went “across the board” and were not specific to age, race or sex. Furthermore, the cases came from all different areas and were not concentrated in any one area of Kern County.
“It’s behaviors that cause meningitis; behaviors are the issues,” Jonah said and cautioned against sharing water bottles, cigarettes, toothbrushes, forks, spoons, etc. Jonah also advised that people should wash their hands frequently and particularly before eating or touching the face. Jonah warned against saliva transferal with individuals suffering from apparent upper respiratory ailments.
“Human nature puts you at risk for meningitis,” according to Jonah. “We all want to be close to each other, but there are things you can and must do to keep your risk factors low.”
People residing in confined and cramped areas such as college dorms and military barracks are especially susceptible to the malady, according to Jonah. College students in general are especially susceptible because they tend to not get enough proper sleep and food.
There is a vaccine available for meningitis, but only for the type “A” meningitis and no other type, according to Jonah.
The Kern County Department of Public offers vaccines for meningitis, according to Jonah.
Through a special state-sponsored children’s program, those 11-18 years can get vaccines through the department for $13. Individuals up to age 18 can get free shots with verifiable proof of Medical. Those 19 years and older can get the vaccine for $95 at the department. The department’s number is (661) 868-0327.
Jonah recommended the Meningitis Foundation of America Web site at www.meningitisfoundationofamerica.org or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site at www.cdc.gov for further information.
Meningitis shots are not available at BC, according to BC’s Debra Strong, R.N., at BC’s Student Health Center. However, hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines are offered. Many colleges and universities demand immunizations before admission, said Strong.

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