Health Department Expands Investigation of Mycoplasma Pneumoniae

Armen Hareyan's picture
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The Rhode Island Department of Health has been investigating an outbreak of mycoplasma pneumoniae infection at the Greenwood Elementary School in Warwick, Rhode Island. This weekend, we received preliminary data from the CDC suggesting a possible relationship between mycoplasma and a previously reported case of encephalitis in a student at the John F. Deering Middle School in West Warwick. That child is currently recovering at home.

The case of encephalitis at the Deering Middle School has not been confirmed as due to mycoplasma. However, we will take the most aggressive course of action. The Health Department and the CDC will be visiting the Deering Middle School to gather more data on January 2. We will review recent medical records from the school clinic and interview students, families and staff. In conjunction with the investigation, officials from the Health Department will be meeting with parents at Deering Middle School tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. We will answer any questions families might have, given the information that is currently available.

In addition, we are also investigating reports of higher than normal absenteeism over the past two months related to pneumonia in two Coventry schools: Black Rock Elementary and Oak Haven Elementary. We do not yet know if these illnesses are related to mycoplasma.

We have not confirmed an outbreak at the Deering School or elsewhere. Right now, we are simply investigating whether an outbreak is occurring. At this time, we do not recommend a school closure or the distribution of antibiotics. We cannot recommend these measures without evidence of a contained outbreak.

It is important to remember that mycoplasma is a common bacteria and that vast majority of people recover without any treatment. As we have stated before, it is commonly associated with walking pneumonia. Mycoplasma very rarely results in illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis. Your primary physician will know and understand the symptoms of this common bacteria.

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As we conduct this investigation, people should take a number of steps.

  • To prevent the spread of and contraction of illness, parents and their children should be careful to wash their hands with alcohol gels and to practice good cough etiquette (covering mouth with cough and sneeze). These preventative measures are extremely effective in preventing the spread of illness.

  • Seek treatment especially if you see a combination of the following symptoms for mycoplasma (walking pneumonia): fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
    People should also watch for a combination of symptoms of meningitis/encephalitis, including: moderate to severe headache, disorientation or confusion, fever, and neck stiffness. These symptoms should prompt urgent medical evaluation.

We understand that this investigation is causing concern to the families in these schools, and to families throughout Rhode Island. That is why we are working aggressively to be as proactive and transparent as possible about our findings and what we are doing to respond.

Throughout this process, we will be updating the public on all our findings. We understand that families want and need to have the timely information necessary to make informed decisions regarding their children's health.

As soon as we have new, confirmed information that is related to this issue, we will immediately make that data available.

For frequently asked questions and updated information, please call the Department of Health, Family Information Line at 1-800-942-7434 or go to www.health.ri.gov

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