Suffolk Health Officials Tell Students Not To Worry About Disease Spreading

EAST ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — She was days from graduation and set to attend Molloy College to pursue a medical career.

Instead, a 17-year-old high school senior on Long Island succumbed to a rare disease, and her classmates are worried that bacterial meningitis may be contagious, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Monday.

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Shaken students mournfully entered the wake of their childhood chum. They all should be finishing finals at East Islip High School, practicing for graduation, putting on prom clothes and getting ready to celebrate. Instead, they will be grieving at the funeral of their beloved college-bound classmate, Kimberly Coffey, and her shocking death from bacterial meningitis.

“It’s devastating that it had to occur at this point in time, right near graduation. It makes the class of 2012 stronger, brings us all together,” student Daniel Trapanotto said.

“Tests were over; prom was next, then graduation. You wouldn’t expect to hear ‘death’ at this time,” student Tenaiyah Morgan said.

“I did see her in the hallways. So many people are afraid, and we did get calls from the Health Department saying that it was safe for the students and faculty to come, but is it really okay?” Kathleen Parrinello added.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said the students have nothing to fear.

“The kind of contact that other students have, just by sitting in the classroom is not putting them at risk,” Dr. Tomarken said.

Bacterial meningitis, rooted in the nose or mouth of a carrier, is caused by inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, and is rarely spread.

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“Potentially one could get it from close intimate contact like kissing and sharing food utensils,” Dr. Tomarken said.

The incubation period lasts four to 10 days. Coffey was diagnosed on June 8. Antibiotics and hospitalization could not save her.

“You’ve got the elementary school right here; you’ve got the junior high school all within breathing distance,” one parent said.

“As a parent, I just feel they should let the kids be more aware,” another added.

The school district notified the community via e-mail and phone, instructing them to remain calm. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, rash, neck stiffness and fatigue.

Bacterial meningitis is most common in infants and among those aged 16-21, especially those living in college dorms, and on military bases, officials said, adding there is a vaccine to prevent the disease.

There are usually no more than four bacterial meningitis cases a year on Long Island and, more often than not, victims recover, officials said.

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