R.I. schools to reopen after health scare

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Schools in three communities are scheduled to reopen today after health investigators found no link between an elementary student who contracted meningitis and three others in the state infected with encephalitis.

Returning students likely will see many more hand-sanitizing stations in the coming weeks as officials work to ensure that a similar scare doesn’t happen again.

Mycoplasma bacteria was blamed for the cases of encephalitis in Warwick and West Warwick in the past few weeks. Dylan Gleavey, a second-grade student at Warwick’s Greenwood Elementary School, died from the neurological illness last month.

Test results received Saturday from a student at Hopkins Hill Elementary School in Coventry who contracted meningitis showed the child did not have mycoplasma, according to the state Health Department. The student’s name hasn’t been released.

David Gifford, director of the state health department, said an investigation by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that “there are no new cases of encephalitis in children, no increased levels of mycoplasma pneumoniae-associated illness and no concentration of that illness in any community.”

More than 20,000 Rhode Island students were kept out of school on Thursday and Friday as authorities investigated a possible link between the cases.

All public schools and after-school activities were closed Thursday and Friday in Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence also closed eight schools in those communities as a precaution, although there were no known cases there.

Meningitis is an inflammation of membranes protecting the brain, and encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Mycoplasma can occasionally cause such neurological complications.

Gov. Don Carcieri has urged residents to practice good hygiene, such as hand-washing, to help stop the spread of any illness and said he would require hand-sanitizing gels in schools.

The governor also signed an executive order mandating certain hygiene standards, including protocols for hand washing, to reduce infectious diseases like pneumonia.

Experts say about 5 to 6 percent of people with walking pneumonia develop neurological complications, including encephalitis and meningitis.

AP-ES-01-07-07 1657EST

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