N.H. meningitis cases are different strains, which is good news

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Health officials announced good news Monday: The strain of bacterial meningitis that killed one teenager during the weekend is not related to the strain contracted by two other teenagers.

That means it less likely that a new, more aggressive strain has entered the state, the officials said.

Meanwhile, doctors upgraded the condition of a 13-year-old Colebrook boy suspected of having meningitis from critical to serious overnight. The boy became sick Friday.

Meningitis, which causes the brain to swell, is spread by intimate contact such as kissing or sharing utensils or water bottles. It is not easily transmitted through sneezing and coughing.

Statewide, five teenagers were hospitalized with symptoms of the illness last week, and health officials on Monday planned to urge health workers to be “hyper-vigilant” of the disease.

No additional cases or suspected cases had turned up as of Monday morning, said Mary Ann Cooney, state public health director.

Rachael Perry, 18, died Saturday after being hospitalized since Christmas. Officials said the strain of bacteria that killed her is not the same as one contracted by two high school classmates from the Keene area.

Those boys _ 15-year-old classmates at Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey _ and a 14-year-old from the Concord area also hospitalized with symptoms of the disease were in fair condition Monday.

Dr. Jesse Greenblatt, the state epidemiologist, said the Keene-area classmates, Brady Ells and Louis Gilman, appear to have spread the disease to one another, but no links between the other cases have been found.

The state planned to send an alert to hospitals and health professionals Monday via an Internet system set up after the terrorist attacks in 2001. The alert would urge health officials to be “hyper-vigilant in recognizing symptoms” of meningitis, Cooney said.

Monadnock Regional High’s 1,300 students and staff were offered antibiotics on Friday, as were about 40 of Perry’s co-workers, friends and family.

Officials were contacting people who may have had contact with the Colebrook and Concord-area boys.

Greenblatt said that despite the rash of cases, the state’s 11 cases of meningitis this year is down from the average of 15 to 25. He said typically there are one or two deaths.

“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 infects the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and 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