Public health: 1 dead, 1 hospitalized due to meningococcal disease in Douglas County

ROSEBURG, Ore. - One person is dead and another hospitalized as a result of meningococcal disease in Douglas County, a public health official said Friday.

But it's still too early to tell whether the cases are connected, Dr. Paul Norris said.

"At this time, we don't believe the broader public is at risk, as it isn't believed that either individual had a high number of close contacts around the time they fell ill," Norris said. "Still, we need to know who they had contact with and how long that contact was, and that's what we hope to find out through our interviews."

Epidemiologists with Douglas County Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division are investigating both cases, including interviewing close contacts, such as friends, family members and coworkers, and provide them with antibiotic prophylaxis if needed.

So far, no other individuals have reported symptoms of the disease.

Additional laboratory tests, including those to determine the type of meningococcal diseases that caused the illnesses, are pending.

Norris said health officials don't believe the Douglas County cases are connected to a recent outbreak of meningococcal disease at the University of Oregon that sickened seven individuals since mid-January. Student athlete Lauren Jones died from the disease.

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria, called meningococcus, that are present in the throats or noses of about 10 percent of the population. It isn't highly contagious, and exposed persons usually don't get ill. Rarely, the disease becomes serious; this happens when the bacteria cross the protective mucous membrane and enter the bloodstream.

Between 2004 and 2014, Oregon saw an average of 35 cases of meningococcal disease, but the number of cases has steadily declined during that time, according to Norris.

In 2004, there were 61 cases, and by 2014, there were 18 cases.

As of the end of October 2015, there have been 18 cases of meningococcal disease in the state.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include high fever, headache and a stiff neck.

Some patients do not get meningitis but have the organism in the bloodstream; this is called "meningococcemia," a severe disease that causes fever and a rash and may quickly be fatal, NOrris said.

Symptoms usually appear about 3 to 4 days after exposure, but may range from 2 to 10 days.

If you did have at least 4 hours of close contact with someone diagnosed with the disease, you should contact your primary care provider and discuss whether you should take an antibiotic

that will prevent you from becoming sick with meningococcal disease, Norris said.

If you do not have a primary care provider, you should contact the Douglas County Public Health at (541) 440-3684.

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