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Springfield school bus drivers fear possible meningitis risk.

Byline: Christian Hill The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Springfield School District officials reported Thursday that county public health officials are investigating whether up to three of the district's bus drivers may have been exposed to an individual being tested for a contagious and potentially fatal bacterial infection.

One bus driver reported feeling ill after coming into work Thursday, but the other two drivers are symptom-free so far, district spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said.

Anne Marie Levis, spokeswoman for Lane County Public Health, confirmed the agency is investigating a possible case of meningococcal disease. She declined to say who may be involved or provide any other details, other than to confirm that testing has begun. Results could be available as early as today.

"We're not going to talk about specific people and specific things, but I can tell you we're doing a standard and appropriate investigation," she said.

Levis said Springfield district students are not at an elevated risk of contracting the disease, and stressed that public health officials quickly ruled out any link between the possible case and a recent outbreak at the University of Oregon.

"There is nothing in our investigation that shows any connection with the UO," Levis said.

Ashbridge said she has no information about how the bus drivers reportedly came into contact with the individual being tested, other than it was not work-related. It was unclear why the bus drivers suspected or knew that the individual had been tested for the disease.

"This is hopefully a case where there's smoke and no fire," she said.

If a case of the disease is confirmed, the school district said public health officials will notify anyone they believe may have been exposed and advise families regarding next steps.

The district sent word through a letter posted on its website, a prerecorded message that went out to about 9,000 parents and social media messages. Ashbridge said it will mail the letter, signed by Acting Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith's name, to parents today.

Ashbridge said a handful of very concerned parents contacted the school district with questions about symptoms. The district directed the parents to public health officials, she said.

The bus drivers serve routes that go to Brattain Early Learning Center, Hamlin Middle School, Springfield High School, Thurston Elementary School, Thurston High School (including its child development center), Thurston Middle School, Two Rivers-Dos Rios Elementary School, Riverbend Elementary School and the UO's A Child's Garden.

The school district said it has hired a professional cleaning team to disinfect the three buses driven by the drivers, even though the bacteria that can cause the disease can't live outside the body for very long. The team is also cleaning the district's transportation department building.

"We're just being overly cautious and making sure we're doing anything possible," Ashbridge said.

The scare comes as public health officials are working to contain an outbreak of meningococcal disease at the UO that sickened six and killed student Lauren Jones, 18, on Feb. 17.

State public health officials reported the latest case last week after a parent of a UO student who visited the campus early last month was diagnosed. It was the first case involving a non-student since the outbreak began in January. The parent is recovering.

A bacteria that resides in the nose and throat causes meningococcal disease, which can lead to meningitis, the emergency swelling of the membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord, or meningococcemia, an infection of the bloodstream.

The bacteria can be spread through kissing, sharing utensils or cups or having prolonged close contact. A person who contracts the bacteria may never exhibit symptoms, but the disease can turn fatal quickly after onset and can leave survivors with lost limbs or brain damage.

The outbreak has spurred the university to work toward vaccinating nearly 22,000 of its undergraduates and others at high risk of getting sick.

Follow Christian on Twitter @RGchill. Email christian.hill@registerguard.com
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Title Annotation:Springfield School District
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 5, 2015
Words:654
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