Meningitis alert draws calls from more than 100 people

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More than 100 people who may have had direct contact with a man who died of bacterial meningitis have called the health departments in Allegheny County and Columbus, Ohio, to determine whether they're candidates for precautionary medications.

Of 60 people who contacted the Allegheny County Health Department, 15 received an antibiotic to prevent infection.

Columbus Public Health treated 26 of 40 people who had come into contact with Joseph Christopher Cecchini, 29, of Squirrel Hill, during a long Labor Day weekend, Columbus Public Health spokesman Jose Rodriguez said.

No additional infections have turned up.

"We were very pleased with our media outreach," said Jim Lando, the county health department's acting chief of epidemiology and biostatistics.

"With invasive meningitis, like this, we want to find people who had close contact with the person so we can give them antibiotics to prevent the meningococcal disease," he said.

Mr. Cecchini, also known as Joe Christopher, died Wednesday in UPMC Mercy within 24 hours after he sought treatment. The health departments issued public alerts seeking to identify anyone who had close exposure to him from Aug. 24 through Wednesday. The county Health Department number is 412-687-2243.

He lived alone but was a businessman with an office job and also served as president and publisher of Cue Magazine, which was the purpose of his Columbus trip.

Since Mr. Cecchino's death, Dr. Lando said, the health department has worked with Columbus Public Health in "a very fruitful collaboration" because his time in Columbus represented his most infectious period.

"Consequences can be severe so we want to err on the side of caution," he said.

Mr. Rodriguez said Columbus residents have cooperated in identifying those who had contact with Mr. Cecchini.

"It's tough to put the puzzle together, but people have been helpful in getting in touch with us right away and providing cell phone numbers," he said. "No one wants anyone else to die from this."

The process now is winding down, Dr. Lando said, noting the health department continues working to identify people who might still face a risk.

Early symptoms of bacterial meningitis are similar to cold symptoms but develop into a stiff neck and sensitivity to light, along with chills, including in the legs, and black and blue dots or spots on the skin.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately, he said.

neigh_city - health

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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