Doctors at St. Anthony's Hospital have diagnosed meningococcal meningitis in a young Pendleton boy. The boy is in the hospital recovering well.

Genni Lehnert, Umatilla County Health Department administrator, said meningococcal meningitis is a serious, but rare, disease that can cause permanent health problems or death.

"It is important to know that 90-95 percent of the people it infects recover with antibiotic therapy," Lehnert said.

Meningitis is spread among people through the exchange of saliva and other respiratory secretions during activities like coughing, kissing, and chewing on toys. Close contacts of cases - such as household members or daycare center cohorts - have a higher chance of developing illness than casual contacts, Lehnert said.

"With the weather, people have more risk to exposure," Lehnert said, because people are spending more time indoors than out. The highest risk is for children less than 5 years of age, with a peak incidence in children aged 6-12 months.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, rash that is non-blanching, develops rapidly and usually appears on the armpits, groin and ankles and where elastic pressure is applied, like underwear and socks.

"If you have any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care," Lehnert said.

Reducing risk is important, Lehnert said. Avoid direct contact -kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone - and oral contact with shared items such as glasses, bottles, food, utensils, cigarettes, pipes, lipsticks, and lip balms.

"It is important to use good personal hygiene measures," Lehnert said, "such as washing your hands frequently and often to decrease exposure risks."

If exposed to meningococcal meningitis, symptoms usually appear in three to four days, but may range from two to 10 days, Lehnert said. Antibiotics can be used to treat people with meningococcal disease. Only people who have been in close contact such as household members, intimate contacts, health care personnel performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, daycare center playmates and so on need to be considered for preventative treatment.

"Such people are usually advised to obtain a prescription for a special antibiotic from their physician," Lehnert said. "Casual contact, as might occur in a regular classroom, office or factory setting is not usually significant enough to cause concern."

More information can be found at www.cdc.gov.

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