Rhode Island officials canceled school Thursday and Friday for more than 20,000 students because of a suspected case of meningitis and the death of a second-grader from encephalitis.
Health experts are trying to determine whether the cases are connected.
“Given the parents’ concerns and our concerns, we felt that out of abundance of caution we would keep schools closed for the next two days,” said Dr. David Gifford, state public health director.
In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Providence closed eight schools in three communities, with a combined 2,600 students, as a precaution. No cases of meningitis or encephalitis have been reported among the students, said diocese spokesman Michael Guilfoyle.
The case of suspected meningitis was reported earlier this week in an unidentified student in Coventry. Also, two weeks ago, Dylan Gleavey, a Warwick elementary school student, died of encephalitis. A classmate of hers and a girl at a West Warwick school also contracted encephalitis but have since recovered.
Dylan’s encephalitis was brought on by “walking pneumonia,” a common illness that in rare cases can lead to meningitis or encephalitis.
Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain.
More epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headed to the state to assist the half-dozen scientists already in Rhode Island.
Health investigators said they will spend the next few days talking to school nurses and looking for possible additional cases in hospitals.
How meningitis is spread
Organisms that cause meningitis can be passed from one person to another or passed from rodents and insects to people. However, exposure to an organism that causes meningitis does not mean you will get the infection.
Organisms can be passed from one person to another:
- During birth. A mother can pass organisms that cause meningitis to her baby even if the mother does not have symptoms. Delivering a baby by caesarean section rather than through the birth canal does not always protect the baby from getting the infection. Organisms such as enteroviruses, group B streptococci, and Escherichia (E.) coli can be transmitted this way.
- Through stool. The enteroviruses and some bacteria (for example, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli) can be transmitted in this manner. More children than adults get meningitis this way.
- Through coughing and sneezing. Infected people can pass certain bacteria that are normally found in their noses and throats (such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis) through saliva or mucus.