Written by Roosevelt County Health Department
A case of meningococcal disease in the bloodstream was confirmed in Roosevelt County on Sept. 25.
The case has been investigated and public health measures put in place by the health departments of Wolf Point and Poplar IHS Clinics, Roosevelt County and Fort Peck Tribal Health.
In collaboration with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, local medical clinics and health departments have instituted measures to prevent, limit and monitor the spread of this very serious communicable disease. No one in contact with the person is known to be ill.
The bacterium involved has the name of Neisseria meningitidis. It can cause two life-threatening conditions — the most common is meningitis, which is an infection of the lining of the brain, and the most severe is an infection of the blood.
Neisseria meningitidis commonly lives in the human throat without causing harm. Most times it infects the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat without producing any noticeable symptoms. But occasionally — less than 1 percent of the time — it crosses natural barriers, invading the blood or brain.
Symptoms of a blood infection could include a sudden onset of fever, nausea, vomiting, rash, vascular damage, blood clotting abnormalities, failure of multiple vital organs, and shock. With the blood infection, the death rate is as high as 20 to 40 percent.
In meningitis, the person may experience flu-like symptoms with fever and headache, stiff neck, nausea, aversion to light, altered mental status and seizures. It carries a 3 to 10 percent mortality rate.
Early disease can be easily misdiagnosed as the signs and symptoms may be hard to distinguish from other common illnesses. Meningococcal disease can be described as a race against time. It can display a rapid onset and progression. Death can ensue within hours despite appropriate treatment. A large percentage of survivors experience hearing loss; neurologic disability; finger, toe, arm or leg amputations; and skin scarring.
Neisseria meningitidiss is one of the bacteria that can cause meningitis and blood infections in infants. After the first year of life, rates decrease until the time of adolescence and young adulthood. Incidence is higher during winter or spring.
Antibiotics can kill this germ. Each case is monitored individually, but usually five to seven days of antimicrobial therapy is adequate. After 24 hours of effective antibiotic treatment, the person is no longer contagious.
The mode of transmission, or the way this bacterium spreads from person to person, is by direct contact, including saliva and droplets from the noses and throats of infected people. Examples of direct contact are sharing eating or drinking utensils or toothbrushes, children playing together, kissing, people sleeping in the same bed, classroom and daycare activities and some travel situations.
When a case of invasive meningococcal disease is detected, close contacts should receive a dose of antibiotic to prevent any development of infection. A vaccine exists for people who wish to reduce their risk of infection. Adolescents should be immunized routinely at the 11- through 12-year of age health care visit. A booster dose at 16 years of age is recommended for these adolescents. Not all of the subgroups of Neisseria meningitidis are covered by the vaccine.
Local health care facilities and health departments will be at increased surveillance levels for this disease. For more information, call or stop in to Wolf Point IHS at 653-1641, Roosevelt County Health Department at 653-6223 or Poplar IHS at 768-3491.