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Doctor says be aware of meningitis symptoms

September 24, 2000

Doctor says be aware of meningitis symptoms



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


A Hagerstown physician who diagnosed an inmate at Maryland Correction Training Center with bacterial meningitis Friday is warning people to watch for signs of the potentially fatal disease.

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Meningitis, caused by the meningococcus bacteria, is an inflammation of tissue lining the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, headaches and neck pain, said Dr. Khalid M. Waseem.

Waseem said he treated a 37-year-old male inmate at Washington County Hospital's emergency room Wednesday.

The inmate, whose name was not released, was found "unresponsive in his cell," and taken to the hospital, said Waseem.

"His neck was stiff, he was moaning and groaning and his eyes were rolling back," said Waseem.

The patient's complaint of severe neck pain was a tipoff that he may have bacterial meningitis, he said.

"That was the alarming sign," Waseem said.

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A spinal tap and other tests confirmed the initial diagnosis on Friday and the patient was immediately given antibiotics, he said. The inmate had been in good health previously, he said.

Others who had been exposed to the inmate, including prison officials and Waseem, also received treatment, he said.

The patient responded well to the medicine and Waseem said he expected to release him from the hospital today.

One way the disease can be transmitted is by the passing of nasal secretions but Waseem said he is unsure how the inmate contracted it.

There had been no other confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis at the prison, said Dave Towers, prison spokesman.

He said the inmate had been at the prison south of Hagerstown since Oct. 1995, serving a life sentence for homicide handed down in 1979.

The man was living in a single cell. Prison officials traced his movements throughout the prison since the day he became ill, said Towers.

Those who came in contact with the inmate were given access to antibiotics, he said.

Towers said he was unaware of any other outbreaks of the disease at MCTC but there have been a few cases recently at Baltimore City Detention Center. Those inmates recovered.

Because meningitis can be mistaken for the flu, its symptoms must always be taken seriously, said Waseem.

If the flu-like symptoms are accompanied by a severe stiff neck, people should contact their physician right away, he said.

About four percent of people exposed to the bacteria develop symptoms and about 10 percent of those who develop symptoms die, even with proper medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention.

The MCTC inmate's diagnosis was the first confirmed case of the disease in Washington County this year, said Waseem.

Five-year-old Travis Jenkins of Washington County died in March 1999 of meningitis just hours after complaining of a headache, fever and an upset stomach.

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