Disease kills N.H. woman

CONCORD – One of five teenagers hospitalized last week with symptoms of bacterial meningitis has died from the disease, and another was in critical condition Sunday.
State health officials planned to alert emergency room personnel statewide Monday about the cases and urge them to watch for signs of additional infections, according to state epidemiologist Jesse Greenblatt.
He said it is unusual to have so many cases in such a short period.
Meningitis, which causes the brain to swell, is spread by fairly intimate contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils or water bottles. It is not easily transmitted through sneezing and coughing.
Rachael Perry, 18, died Saturday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where the Bennington woman had been hospitalized since Christmas, Greenblatt said.
Meanwhile, a 13-year-old boy from Colebrook, in the far northern tip of the state, also appeared to have contracted the disease. The boy became sick Friday and was in critical condition Sunday.
Three other teens – two 15-year-old classmates at Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey and a 14-year-old from the Concord area – were in fair condition Sunday.
Greenblatt said the 15-year-old classmates, Brady Ells and Louis Gilman, appear to have spread the disease to one another, but that health officials had found no links between the other cases.
Ells, Gilman and Perry all contracted a strain of the disease that cannot be prevented by vaccination. Heath officials were testing to determine whether the Colebrook boy had the same strain, and suspect the Concord-area boy did, as well.
“If all of the strains of the bacteria match, and certainly if there are more cases, that would be more concerning,” Greenblatt said. “It would mean that there is potentially more risk from a new strain that has entered the area.”
He said officials hoped to know more about the strain during the next day or two.
On Friday antibiotics were given to Monadnock Regional High School’s 1,300 students and staff. They also were given to about 40 of Perry’s co-workers, friends and family.
Health officials were contacting people who may have had contact with the Colebrook and Concord-area boys.
Greenblatt said that despite the unusual cluster of cases, the state has had only 11 cases of meningitis this year, down from the average of 15 to 25. He said typically there are one or two deaths.
Greenblatt said he is encouraging health-care providers and parents to increase their level of suspicion about meningitis.
“We have to keep our vigilance high,” he said. “But that’s good advice regardless. This is a time of year when we tend to see more meningitis cases.”
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and the brain. Symptoms include severe headache, fever, nausea, stiff neck, and sometimes a rash. The incubation period is generally two to six days.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, up to 15 percent of meningitis cases are fatal.