Earlier this week, Health Department officials in Santa Rosa County said a Santa Rosa School Bus driver died from bacterial meningitis. Now the Medicial Examiner is saying tests are not back to confirm that statement.
Santa Rosa County students may have been exposed because the driver did not know the severity of her illness. She died on Thursday, May 23 suddenly in an area hospital, according to health officials.
The Santa Rosa County Health Department said that students in contact with the driver are at a low risk of contracting the disease. The Medical Examiners Office continues to investigate the case. The office handles any unusual or unnatural cases or cases where there are threats to public health.
Jeff Martin, Director of the District One Medical Examiner's Office, said they were awaiting toxicology results before making the final positive or negative diagnosis. The office was waiting to see if there had been any bacterial growth in cultures taken.
Samples have been taken from vital organs, to help diagnose the cause of death, if a negative result is found.
Initial reports from the health department confirmed a highly suspicious meningitis case, prompting school officials to make targeted phone calls to inform parents to look out for certain symptoms of meningitis.
The health department remains on heightened alert for anyone that had close contact—kissing, sharing a cigarette, sharing the same cup, spending more than eight hours in a confined area—with the bus driver.
"We're trying to hone in on individuals close to the patient," Mary Beverly, Health Services Manager said. "According to the CDC, these are individuals that spend eight hours or more in close contact while they're sick."
The bus driver reportedly died in an area hospital last week. There have been no other confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis in Santa Rosa County, according to Beverly.
The school board contacted parents by automated phone call targeting families of the children who rode under the supervision of the bus driver late Friday night according to Joey Harrell, assistant superintendent. The driver bused students for Rhodes Elementary, King Middle, and Milton High.
Harrell said they were working with the health department to inform the parents of the risk. Final results surrounding the bacterial infection were not revealed until Friday evening, according to the school board official. The decision was made to make the call to parents late Friday night so parents could keep an eye out for symptoms.
"We did not have any evidence that there was an epidemic," Harrell said. "Once we had confirmation, we acted appropriately."
The health department has not yet tracked down where the bacterial illness originated. Beverly said meningitis has a seven to ten day incubation period..
"We're honing in on the individuals that we think are high risk," Beverly said. The best things people can do to protect themselves Beverly says is, "Keep your hands clean. Keeping the hands clean is one of the biggest things."
Symptoms of meningitis include; fever, severe headache, a very painful and stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, a rash on the chest or neck. If the signs and symptoms are exhibited, it is recommended that a physician is contacted.