Meningitis outbreak under control, health officials encourage precautions

By Dale Peacock, Editorial Editor

Three weeks since Texas’ Department of Health began monitoring meningitis cases in the Houston area, concerns continue to surface about the spread of the disease, what officials are doing about it and what precautions should be taken to prevent the disease.

Since Oct. 1, according to information from TDH, 41 cases of meningitis have been confirmed in Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty and Montgomery counties, with the bulk of the cases in Harris and Montgomery counties.

All of this may cause students to be concerned that this year’s meningitis outbreak is reaching epidemic proportions, but that is not the case, according to Mark Guidry, M.D., TDH regional director, Houston.  Despite the increased attention to the recent cases, Guidry sad the number of cases, relative to the number of people in the Houston area, is still low.

“We’ve had 41 cases in counties with a combined population of at least 4 mission,” Guidry said.  “I would urge everyone to remember that this is still a very rare illness.”

Other health officials have cautioned communities not to be in too much of a hurry to receive vaccinations.  Dr. Ralph D. Feigin, president of Baylor College of Medicine, said that it might not be in the best interest of a person to get a vaccine if they are not living in an affected area.

“Outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis are confined to certain communities in the Houston area.  People living outside of those specific areas are at no greater risk to acquire the disease than anyone else in the general population.”

In lieu of a vaccine, there are precautions that can be taken to prevent the contraction of the disease, like practicing good hygiene.  According to the Texas Children’s Hospital Web site, people are encouraged to not share utensils, toothbrushes, cigarettes, drinking containers or food.

Getting information about meningitis and methods of prevention to the public, and more specifically to college students, has become a priority for one state senator.  Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced a bill that would require all universities in the state to educate new students about symptoms, transmission, vaccinations and sources of additional information regarding meningitis.  The bill in the Texas senate is SB 31 and a similar bill introduced into the Texas house is HB 1151.

For more information regarding meningitis and the bills, visit the following Web sites for meningitis: www.tdh.state.tx.us or www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/meningococcal_g.html; for SB 31, visit www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlo/billnbr.htm

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