Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teen's Death Probed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teen's Death Probed

Article excerpt

An 18-year-old Palatka High School student suspected of having bacterial meningitis died late Wednesday as health officials continued their efforts to control the disease.

The teen was one of three suspected and six confirmed cases of the disease reported in Putnam County since Dec. 12.

More than 8,200 Putnam County residents had been vaccinated by 5 p.m. yesterday as part of a voluntary massive campaign targeting those ages 2 to 22. The vaccinations scheduled for today have been canceled but will resume tomorrow after doctors obtain more vaccine.

As a precaution, Putnam County school officials are delaying the return of 13,500 public school students by a week. Classes will resume after the holiday break on Jan. 11 instead of Monday.

Health and school officials emphasize they do not believe the illness has spread in schools. But "we wanted to err on the side of caution," said Superintendent David Buckles.

George A. Smith, a senior at Palatka High, became ill Tuesday with symptoms including a headache, fever and coughing. He was taken to Putnam Community Hospital at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and died shortly before midnight.

Gerard Krause, Putnam County epidemiologist, said Smith's condition quickly worsened. Tests were being conducted to confirm meningitis was the cause of death.

Krause said those in close contact with Smith are being treated.

Putnam County averages one confirmed case of meningitis per year. But the unusually high number of cases reported in recent weeks sparked the vaccination campaign that began Wednesday.

More than 5,800 people stood in line in the Palatka High School cafeteria to get their shots on the first day. Another 3,657 were vaccinated by 7 p.m. yesterday.

Health officials targeted the group they consider most at risk -- all Palatka and East Palatka residents ages 2 to 22. That's 6,000 people in an area populated by 12,200.

But with vaccinations soaring above 9,000, it's clear some outside the target group are concerned. …

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