Letters to the Editor

Feedback: Story omitted vital information

After reading the Whidbey News-Times article “Student beats meningitis” in your publication dated Oct. 30, I felt compelled to write. I was most alarmed by Nathan Whalen’s tone in the article and all of the missing facts with regard to this disease, missing facts that I have become distinctly aware of over this past year.

Just barely 10 months ago, my son lost his bride of less than five months to meningococcal meningitis. A prominent Oak Harbor family lost a daughter, a sister, granddaughter, niece and cousin. My family lost a daughter-in-law. The community of Oak Harbor lost a valuable citizen.

Joey Holcomb and his family are lucky and blessed that their outcome was recovery. My thankful prayers go out to them!

Facts the community and families should know: It is stated, although not by your reporter, that only 15 to 20 percent of cases are fatal. This is true for the less virulent forms of bacterial meningitis which invades the central nervous system. The meningococcal strain, however, evades the bloodstream and can cause rapid death within 18 hours or less, of symptoms, and has a 50 to 60 percent fatality rate. Both of these strains are caused by the neisseria meningitides bacteria.

Oak Harbor parents need to know: This disease is spread from respiratory, nasal and oral secretions. That 10 to 25 percent of the population are carriers and that this rate is higher in closely grouped communities, i.e. college dormitories and military bases. There is a higher rate of incidence in a specific belt in Africa. Travelers to and from the Sudan and Saudi Arabia are at a higher risk to communicate the disease. Vaccinations are encouraged for college students in this state and awareness education is required. Other states mandate vaccination unless a waiver is signed. See the list compiled by the National Meningitis Association (www.nmaus.org). What everyone can do is cover their nose and mouth, when they cough or sneeze and wash their hands afterward. Be especially vigilant if you have cold-like symptoms and have a headache and/or neck ache with fever. Do not share your chap-stick, cigarettes and drinking glasses with others.

What troubles me is that I have heard of just fewer than six incidences in the past year within the counties of Island, Skagit and Whatcom, and one of those was fatal. Your article did little to educate readers to this fact and the others I have included. How did the school board notify the parents of Joey’s illness? Could the tone of the article be more serious, compassionate and less flip? Should we mandate awareness education in the public school system?

If Island County Health Department is concerned, so should we. I write this on behalf of a bereaved family and Whidbey Island resident.

Susan Swisher-Moch


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