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No New Cases of Bacterial Disease Found

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County health officials Monday reported no new cases of a rare bacterial infection that claimed the life of a 12-year-old Costa Mesa girl, left another critically ill and led some anxious parents to keep their children home from school.

Doctors stressed that no outbreak of the disease, meningococcemia, had occurred and that the number of cases was normal for this time of year. But the fact that two girls from Costa Mesa High School last week came down with the illness at roughly the same time set off a wave of anxiety.

Three other cases of the disease, a form of meningitis that infects the blood, have been reported: An 8-year-old Garden Grove girl died last month; a 27-month-old boy from Anaheim Hills who contracted the disease a few weeks ago is recovering; and an 18-year-old Fullerton man was listed in good condition at a hospital after contracting the illness over the weekend.

Health officials said they have found no evidence that the cases are related.

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At Costa Mesa High, which reopened Monday after an exam break Friday, Principal Andrew Hernandez said teachers set aside class time to inform students of the disease’s symptoms, which include a stiff neck, sudden high fever, nausea and a pink rash or rapidly spreading bruises.

But some students were not there to get the message, kept home by parents who remained nervous and awaited further word from the school or county health department.

Dave Johnson said he will keep his ninth-grade daughter home until at least Wednesday as a precaution.

Although she did not have any contact with either student who fell ill, Johnson said he will wait until he receives more information from the county about the risk of infection.

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“I believe it’s better to err on the side of safety,” he said. “I know a lot of kids are out of school. Their parents are terrified.”

Psychologists visited the school, which has both junior and senior high students, to talk about their fears of contracting the disease. But most of the students they saw were more grieved than worried, thinking of 12-year-old seventh-grader Kori Emer, who died Thursday, Hernandez said.

The school received several calls from concerned parents, but Hernandez said he did not know how many withheld their children from school. Based on his observations, he said, he did not see a large dip in attendance but he did not have a figure available.

The school, with a student population of 1,750, planned to carry on as usual with reassurance from county health officials that pupils and staff were not under any increased risk, he said.

Some parents whose children were in the same class as the infected students were referred to the county health department or their health-care providers for more information on the disease, Hernandez said.

The school nursing staff reported a “normal daily flow” of students but none had symptoms of meningococcemia, Hernandez said.

Those students who had close direct contact with either of the infected students--sharing food or utensils or prolonged exposure to their coughing or sneezing--have a slightly higher than normal risk for getting the illness, which is spread through bacteria that inhabit the throat. Antibiotics can snuff out the disease, but it can kill quickly if left untreated.

As much as 20% of the population may have the bacteria in them at a given time, but young children and those with immune system deficiencies seem most liable to develop the disease, said Dr. Hildy Meyers, county epidemiologist.

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Still, Meyers stressed that only those who have had close contact with a person with the disease are generally at risk.

“On the whole there is no reason for people to be overly concerned about it,” Meyers said.

Orman Day, a spokesman for Children’s Hospital Orange County, said the unidentified seventh-grade Costa Mesa student was in critical but stable condition, undergoing treatment with drugs and breathing with the help of a ventilator.

“She is not entirely out of the woods but we’re fairly optimistic,” Day said.

At Chapman Medical Center, spokeswoman Trish Bartel said Bryan Owen, 18, would be released in two or three days. He was admitted Friday night, received treatment in the intensive care unit and is now recuperating, Bartel said.

No further information was available on the Anaheim Hills toddler recovering from the illness.


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