Officials from the Cherokee County Health Department said Friday that a 44-year-old male has died of probable meningococcal disease.

The Cherokee County Health Department worked to identify all persons at risk and recommended post-exposure antibiotics. There have been no further cases of confirmed illness and the general public is not at risk, Health Department officials reported. Only persons who had close, personal contact to a person with a meningococcal infection have a slightly increased risk of developing the disease.

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Many healthy people carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose and throat without any symptoms. Usually, the bacteria stay in the nose and throat for a few days and will then disappear. The bacteria are spread from person-to-person by direct contact with secretions from the nose and throat. The reason the organism disappears in some people and produces illness in others is not clearly understood, but is probably related to individual susceptibility.

Nineteen cases of meningococcal disease were reported in Oklahoma during 2005, and four people died from the disease. Public health officials confirm that the Cherokee County case is the first reported case of meningococcal disease in Oklahoma for 2006.

Symptoms may appear two to 10 days after infection, but usually appear within three to four days. People ill with meningococcal septicemia may have fever, nausea, vomiting and a rash. People that are ill with meningitis will have fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. It is important to seek care from a physician as soon as possible if these symptoms appear.

The Cherokee County Health Department actively investigated to determine the close contacts to this case and interacted with those individuals to recommend antibiotics as a preventive measure. Rifampin is the antibiotic generally prescribed for those with close contact. It eliminates the bacteria from the nose and throat of persons carrying it, which may help protect contacts from developing a meningococcal infection. Casual contacts, such as students in a school classroom or co-workers at a workplace, are not at increased risk of getting the disease and therefore do not need treatment with antibiotics. Persons not in contact with the person diagnosed with meningococcal disease are not at risk.

For more information on meningococcal disease, contact the Cherokee County Health Department at (918) 456-8826, or the epidemiologist-on-call at the Oklahoma State Department of Health Communicable Disease Division at (405) 271-4060.