April 1, 2011

Parents not panicky about teacher's meningitis

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- School officials and parents are remaining calm, though cautious, in the wake of a Londonderry elementary school teacher’s diagnosis of viral meningitis.
On Thursday afternoon, one day after the female teacher’s condition was announced,
 Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said the infected teacher, who works at both North and South elementary schools, was recovering from her illness at home.
“She had headaches for a couple days and went to the doctor,” Greenberg said. “They did some tests, and it was determined that’s what it was.”
Greenberg, like other school officials, wouldn’t disclose the teacher’s identity, citing privacy laws. He did stress, however, that the teacher’s prognosis was good, and she
 would hopefully return to work soon. 
“As far as I know, she’s progressing well,” he said, declining to comment further on any specifics of the teacher’s illness or whether she’d been hospitalized. 
Greenberg said he hasn’t received any phone calls from concerned parents since sending a mass e-mail and letters to all of the district’s parents on the morning of March 30, noting that all parents of any students who may have had direct contact with the ill teacher had also received individual phone calls from school nurses. 
Neither Mary Coltin, principal of North School, nor Linda Boyd, principal of South School, could be reached for comment. 
Greenberg said he didn’t plan on requesting the ill teacher grant permission to release her name publicly. 
“As you can imagine, the teacher is not feeling well and needs the time to recuperate,” Greenberg said. “Too, since all of the individuals that had contact with the teacher were notified, I do not see any constructive purpose or necessity to reveal the individual’s name.” 
So far, no students in the district have shown any signs of viral meningitis, which is generally considered to be less serious than bacterial meningitis, and the interior of both schools have been thoroughly sanitized according to state health protocols. 
Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom of the state Department of Public Health, said state health officials weren’t actively following this week’s Londonderry case, since the state isn’t required to track most cases of viral meningitis. 
“Most of the viruses that cause meningitis are very selflimited, and they don’t stay in the body for very long,” Dionne- Odom said on Thursday, noting that the risk of students contracting the illness from an infected teacher is “close to zero.” 
And though deaths from viral meningitis do happen, as many in the district can recall following Londonderry High School junior Rebecca Tenney’s death this past fall, state officials stressed such a tragedy was a tragic and extremely rare exception. 
“I think people might be a little more troubled to hear the same diagnosis again, but the terrible tragedy with Becca was that it was a very unlikely and clearly unfortunate outcome of meningitis,” School Board Chairman John Robinson said. “We have no reason to think that will happen again.” 
Dionne-Odom said, “Even if you were to look into the same home of someone with viral meningitis, you’d see transmission is very unlikely.” 
Still, parents are urged to exercise common sense. 
“If you know your child is having persistent headaches or fever, you should bring them to the doctor right away,” she said. 
According to the Centers for Disease Control, meningitis is a general term used for infections of the fluid surrounding a person’s spinal cord and brain. Meningitis can stem from a variety of different viruses but can also be caused by bacteria, physical injury, parasites, fungus, cancer or certain drugs. 
In general, most cases of viral meningitis tend to resolve themselves without any specifi c treatment, while bacterial meningitis patients usually require a strong course of antibiotics and an often-lengthy hospital stay. 
Cheryl Haas, a local parent and vice president of the South School PTA, said she had yet to be contacted by any concerned parents, and was remaining calm, though she wasn’t told which teacher had gotten sick. 
“I could do a process of elimination, but there are lots of staff members who work at both (North and South elementary) schools,” Haas said. “Really though, I just wish this teacher well. Hopefully they caught this in time and she gets better soon.” 
Parent Laurie Peters, whose son attends South School, said she received an e-mail alert from district officials on Wednesday, but likewise saw no reason to panic. 
Peters said the identity of the infected teacher hadn’t been revealed to her. Still, she felt the school district was doing a good job of raising awareness and ensuring the proper precautions have been taken. 
“Honestly, I didn’t really get too worked up about it,” Peters said Thursday afternoon. “I haven’t talked to a single parent today who brought it up.” 
School Board member Steve Young concurred. 
“I think the superintendent has effectively outlined the actions taken by the school district in the e-mail sent to parents this week,” Young said, adding that he has yet to hear from any panicky parents. 
Young, like other members of the School Board, hasn’t been told the identity of the infected teacher. 
“Frankly, I don’t feel the School Board needs to know it,” he said. “It’s very typical in these types of situations where federal regulations say the name will never be revealed.” 

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