MORE than 10,000 people line up for antibiotics in Ohio as third teen hospitalized

Monday, June 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALLIANCE, Ohio (AP) _ More than 10,000 people, some fearful of contact with their family and friends, lined up at hospitals for preventative antibiotics after a meningitis outbreak killed two high school students and left a third teen-ager seriously ill.

As hospital workers handed out forms to those waiting in line Sunday, several people refused to use the shared pens.

``I'd rather use my own,'' said Pam Craft, 48.

Her 16-year-old son, Chris, said ``everybody's panicking,'' but said he was not concerned because, ``All of my friends are already on the medication.''

Stacy Young, 26, said she was worried about her 5-year-old daughter hugging and kissing her aunt because the teen-age relative attends high school with one of the three stricken teen-agers.

Health officials began handing out antibiotics Saturday when Christin Van Camp, 18, of Marlington High School, was hospitalized with an unidentified strain of Neisseria meningitidis. She was listed in serious condition late Sunday afternoon.

Freshman Jonathan Stauffer, 15, died May 23, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, a sophomore, died May 25 after being diagnosed with identical strains of Neisseria meningitidis. The two may have shared a water bottle at their Beloit West Branch High School picnic last month, Superintendent Louis Ramunno said.

The teens attend schools about 15 miles away from each other and Van Camp was at Coblentz's funeral on Friday.

Doctors expected to know by Monday if all three students contacted the same strain of meningitis, Hostettler said. If Van Camp's strain turns out to be identical, Alliance would likely launch a vaccination program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was to send an expert to the area on Monday to determine whether residents should receive vaccinations on a community-wide basis.

Officials planned to stop distributing the preventative antibiotics on Monday morning, believing there would be no clinical benefit from distributing the drugs after the 48-hour incubation period for the disease, said Dr. Mark Hostettler, medical director of the Alliance Community Hospital.

Meningitis is spread by close contact, such as intimate kissing, drinking out of the same container or sharing an eating utensil, health officials said.

Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion and possible rash.

The outbreak has sparked confusion and fear among residents.

Marlington postponed its graduation ceremonies scheduled for Sunday and canceled classes for the rest of the year, including final exams.

Marie Difloure, 35, and other parents of Alliance High School seniors tried in vain to convince officials to call off Sunday's graduation ceremonies.

``They can postpone it, instead of risking people's lives,'' Difloure said.

The event went on as planned. Several doors of the school had placards advising, ``This is not a site for medication,'' and directed people to the hospital.

Classes at West Branch were canceled Monday but were to resume Tuesday, officials said. St. Thomas Aquinas High School in nearby Louisville canceled classes for the week.

There are about 3,000 cases of meningitis annually in the United States, said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Ten percent to 15 percent die from the disease.

He said of those who survive, some suffer permanent damage to their bodies, including brain damage.