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Employee contracts meningitis

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 21:01

A university employee who works in dining services at East Tennessee State University was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis last week.

The employee was released from the hospital Jan. 20 and is expected to be cleared to return to work soon.

“Meningitis is an infection,” said Lisa Ousley, student/university health services director at ETSU. “There are two types of meningitis: viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. It is not a highly contagious infection, but it is a contagious infection. Why it gives us such concern is because the people who do contract meningitis, bacterial meningitis, have a high risk of illness and even death. Mortality and morbidity is increased.”

Though the employee was not involved in food preparation or service, upon receiving news of the possible meningitis case, the university announced that there was reason to believe that an employee had contracted meningitis Jan. 16 in an email that was sent to the ETSU community.

“When we find out, on our campus community, that we have a possible meningitis case, we don’t wait,” Ousley said. “We actually respond in a very positive way of contacting our local health department, the Washington County Health Department, and contacting anyone that  would have any sort of risk, even though low risk, of exposure to this employee or student or staff member. ... So, that’s what we did.”

In addition to the email, the university screened the 10 employees who came in contact with the infected employee and determined that they were at low risk for contracting meningitis.

“We’ve actually gone above and beyond, I think, what’s required in terms of what our approach has been,” said Joe Smith, executive assistant to the president for university relations. “We’ve got a protocol in place of when you have suspected meningitis on campus, here’s what you’re going to do, and we followed those steps.”

The 10 employees who came in contact with the infected individual have not developed any symptoms related to meningitis.

“We ... contacted the employees that work within that area [ETSU Dining Services] and their manager, and we offered a service, a service of education, of support, of assessment,” Ousley said. “I’ve personally seen all of the employees that had contact, and the positive thing is they were all very low risk. No one had close contact, which would indicate for me, as a provider, that I could offer the option of a prophylactic, or a preventive, antibiotic dose. So, none of them qualified as being a moderate or high risk.”

Ousley said that meningitis is spread through close contact with an infected person. The infection can be spread through exchange of saliva or living with an infected person.

According to the university’s press release, common symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, chills, body aches, nausea and neck stiffness. The university advises anyone who is experiencing those symptoms to contact his or her health care provider.

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