- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — One of five teenagers hospitalized with symptoms of bacterial meningitis has died, and one other was in critical condition yesterday.

State health officials planned to alert emergency rooms statewide today to watch for signs of additional infections, state epidemiologist Jesse Greenblatt said.

He said it is unusual to have so many cases in such a short period.

Meningitis, which causes the brain to swell, is spread by fairly intimate contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils or water bottles. Two of the teens are classmates, but health officials said they had found no connections among the others.

Rachel Perry, 18, died Saturday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where the Bennington, Vt., teenager had been hospitalized since Christmas, Mr. Greenblatt said.

The three teens from southern New Hampshire — two 15-year-old classmates at Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey and a 14-year-old from the Concord area — were in fair condition yesterday.

Health officials said a 13-year-old boy from Colebrook, in the far northern tip of the state, also appeared to have contracted the disease. The boy became sick Friday and was in critical condition yesterday.

Miss Perry and the two 15-year-old boys contracted a strain of the disease that cannot be prevented by vaccination, officials said. Health officials were conducting tests to determine whether the other teens have the same strain.

“If all of the strains of the bacteria match, and certainly if there are more cases, that would be more concerning,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “It would mean that there is potentially more risk from a new strain that has entered the area.”

He said officials hope to know more about the strain in a day or two.

Mr. Greenblatt said that despite the unusual cluster of cases, the state has had only 11 cases of meningitis this year. The average is 15 to 25. He said that typically there are one or two deaths.

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and the brain. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 15 percent of meningitis cases are fatal.

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