SAVANNAH - Two children have been hospitalized with symptoms of possible bacterial meningitis after attending a YMCA summer camp with another child who has been diagnosed with the disease.
Initial tests for meningitis were negative in the two new suspected cases, but Chatham County health officials sent lab specimens to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing.
Dr. Diane Weems, chief medical officer for the Chatham County Health Department, said Friday there's a 'good chance' the children, both age 6, have meningitis that went undetected by tests because the patients had been taking antibiotics.
One child had a rash and fever that are symptomatic of meningitis, Weems said. The other had no rash but exhibited high fever, headaches and abdominal pains that can be early signs of infection.
The health department notified parents of 270 children attending the YMCA summer camp in nearby Pooler, as well as 30 camp counselors, on Wednesday that a 7-year-old child at the camp had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. The other two children became ill Thursday.
Weems said all three children's illnesses were detected early and they were responding well to treatment at area hospitals. She said she hoped to have lab results from the CDC by Monday.
'It appears they all will recover,' Weems said. 'The first two, who are sicker, are doing much better. And the third one was much better by the next morning.'
The health department has not identified the children publicly.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. If untreated, it can result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability and even death in severe cases.
While the infection is not highly contagious and is not spread by casual contact, it does spread through respiratory and throat secretions - such as coughing or kissing.
Health department spokeswoman Ginger Heidel said nearly all of the children and adults exposed to the sick children at the camp had come forward for treatment with the antibiotic rifampin.
'We believe well over 90 percent of the people we were looking for have gotten treatment,' Heidel said. 'There are no reports of anybody else with symptoms.'