GIBSLAND–On Friday, Feb. 20, the Louisiana Department of Health will provide meningitis vaccines at no cost for all middle and high school students at Gibsland-Coleman Complex School in Bienville Parish.

The LDH Office of Public Health is offering this vaccination in response to two confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis and a third probable case in the community of Gibsland.

Vaccination of these students is important to help control the potential spread of the disease, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard.

"Although meningitis is not highly contagious, it can be fatal. Vaccinating the students and staff of this school is a public health intervention to ensure that we protect as many people in this community as possible," Dr. Ratard said.

The Gibsland-Coleman School has 243 students and 47 administrators and staff members. The vaccine is approved for everyone between the ages of two and 55.

In addition to reaching out to the school population, OPH staff members have identified family members and other close, recent contacts of the confirmed and probable meningitis patients in order to administer antibiotics to help treat anyone that might be at a higher risk for contracting the bacterial infection.

"While OPH staff members are doing everything possible to prevent any more cases of this disease, it is important for everyone to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis, as the vaccine can take up to two weeks to work and the antibiotics are not 100 percent effective," Dr. Ratard said.

Common symptoms include high fever, headache, and stiff neck—also common symptoms of the flu. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion and sleepiness.

The disease is spread by large droplets coming from respiratory and throat secretions.

Those who may be infected include household contacts of a meningitis patient, roommates, people who had close contacts with the mouth secretions of the patient (health care providers or people who may have kissed people with infections), and day care center contacts.

People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningitis should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease.

People with only casual contact with a patient (working together, attending primary school, talking) are not considered to be at risk of infection.

Dr. Ratard cautions anyone who may have been exposed to meningitis and who develops any symptoms of the disease to see their physician or go to a local health unit or hospital immediately, as early diagnosis and treatment are very important. The doctor will discuss with them the need for preventive treatment and will arrange for this treatment.

Meningitis occurs in the fluid surrounding the brain or in the blood. These infections are not highly contagious but can be fatal.

In addition to the vaccination, the Office of Public Health has undertaken other measures to ensure that the population is protected.

•On Wednesday, Feb. 18, letters went home with students to educate families about meningitis.

•On Thursday, Feb. 19, there will be a meeting at 4 P.M. at the Gibsland-Coleman Complex School for parents and community members to get information and ask questions about the disease and vaccine. Dr. Ratard and DHH’s Regional Medical Director Dr. Martha Whyte will attend.

•As an ongoing service to the entire state, LDH publishes general and technical information and information for medical providers on Meningococcal Meningitis and other infectious diseases on its website. To learn more, visit the LDH OPH website at http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/publications.asp?ID=249&FromSearch=1&Detail=997.

The Louisiana Department of Health serves to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visithttp://www.dhh.louisiana.gov.