Anne Arundel County health officials said yesterday that they were trying to reach the families of five preschool children who may have been exposed to bacterial meningitis through contact with a boy who was diagnosed with the disease last weekend and is now hospitalized.
Working throughout Easter, county Health Department nurses contacted 85 of 90 families whose children attend the Edgewater preschool with the sick boy or who went to a March 24 birthday party with him. The families were told to contact a doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics.
"We're still working on the remaining five families," said Dr. Katherine P. Farrell, the county's deputy health officer for public health. "It being a long weekend, they may be out of town; we're still calling and trying to get alternative numbers."
The 4-year-old boy, a preschooler at London Town Academy, was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital on Saturday and was reported to be improving yesterday, Farrell said.
The Health Department was notified Saturday afternoon of a suspected case of bacterial meningitis, a contagious and potentially fatal infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if detected early enough.
On Saturday evening, Farrell said, Health Department staff spoke with London Town Academy to compile a list of the boy's contacts during the past 10 days. Nurses began calling families that night, she said.
Farrell said those at risk for exposure to the disease should be treated with antibiotics within 10 days of contact.
Bacterial meningitis is caused by a bacterium that is carried by many people in their noses and throats, Farrell said. Symptoms of the disease include high fever, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, stiffness in the upper joints, and a rash of small, bright-red spots. The disease can cause brain damage and hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease can be spread through activities such as kissing, sharing eating utensils or performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The risk of infection from casual contact is low, according to the CDC Web site.
"It takes a lot of very, very close contact to spread this," Farrell said. "It basically takes saliva to saliva."