CANTON, OHIO The state Health Department decided Tuesday to vaccinate up to 5,800 high school students to protect them from a meningitis-related outbreak that has killed two teen-agers and left a third seriously ill.
Health officials will start administering the shots for free Friday to students in six schools in and around Alliance, a northeastern Ohio city of 23,000.
"Our job is to err on the side of conservatism," said Nick Baird, director of the Health Department. The state will cover the $55 cost per shot.
In an outbreak that has spread fear and confusion in the Alliance area, two high school students, Jonathan Stauffer, 15, and Kelly Coblentz, 16, died more than a week ago after contracting a blood infection caused by a strain of the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Officials suspect the two shared a water bottle at a school picnic last month.
On Saturday, Christin Van Camp, 18, a student at another high school, was diagnosed with the same kind of blood infection.
The bacteria give victims either meningitis, a disease of the brain, or meningococcemia, a blood infection.
The germs are spread by saliva by such means as drinking out of someone else's glass or sharing a fork or spoon. Symptoms include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion.
Over the weekend, thousands of people in the Alliance area lined up to get antibiotics, and about 37,000 doses were given out. But the pills protect people for only a day or two. A vaccine lasts three to five years.
A decision on immunization is based on the number of infections in a community. In a town the size of Alliance, three infections would be the minimum required under guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.