Meningitis case confirmed at a Smyth County elementary school

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CHILHOWIE, Va. (WDBJ)- More than 600 students will be out of class from one Virginia elementary school after a confirmed case of meningitis, and it doesn't look like it's the only one.

Along with the one confirmed case of meningitis, there are two other students at Chilhowie Elementary School in Smyth County who are suspected of having it too.

The biggest problem is there are different type of the disease, and this is believed to be the most dangerous!

Dr. Karen Shelton is the Director of the Mount Rogers Health District of th Virginia Department of Health.

She said, explained, "Bacterial meningitis, if not treated, can be fatal. People can die from bacterial meningitis, which is why we call it the most concerning type."

While that's the case, the bright side is it is hard to spread bacterial meningitis.

It only spreads through cough or sneeze droplets that don't touch any other surface.

"Very prolonged face-to-face contact or sharing like a sandwich, a water bottle, something where there has been very direct contact, is considered the highest risk for transmission," Dr. Shelton said. "Those who are in casual contact, even in the same classroom, on the same bus, in the cafeteria, those are not a risk for transmission of meningitis."

Despite this, a letter went home to parents on Tuesday.

The next day, the district canceled school for Thursday and Friday, although it wasn't a health mandate. This was the school's call.

Schools Superintendent Dennis Carter explained, "As a preventative measure, we have been doing additional cleanings at the school, but this gives us a chance to go deeper in the cleaning process."

Next Monday the school will continue it's work to stop any kind of spread.

"We rely upon the Virginia Department of Health, they've provided a face sheet that we have shared with employees of symptoms to watch for," Carter said.

Parents are also asked to look out for symptoms like High Fever with Headache, Stiff Neck, Nausea, Vomiting, Rash, Lethargic, confused, or Light sensitivity.

But Dr. Shelton was asked in an age with so many vaccines and immunizations, why should all this be necessary?

She said, "The vaccines for the type of meningitis we're concerned about aren't usually given until 11-12 years old and boosters at 16 and then sometimes after that age. There is generally not a vaccine recommended at this age for this type of meningitis."

The health department will monitor the area for the next two weeks to make sure there are no more cases. If there aren't the issue will be resolved.

Neither the school or health district could say how old the three children are, just that parents of any kids who shared classrooms with them were personally called.

Those three kids were still in the hospital Wednesday night fighting the meningitis.

Dr. Shelton said anyone living in the homes with them were also given antibiotics to prevent catching it.