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Bacterial meningitis suspected in death

A suspected victim of the bacterial meningitis outbreak being fought with a countywide vaccination program has died.

Health department officials were awaiting test results to confirm whether an 18-year-old Palatka man who died late Wednesday had contracted the disease. His name wasn't made public.

Palatka is in Putnam County, east of Gainesville.

"Now more than ever, we want to make sure that the most people at risk are protected from the disease," Cheryll Lesneski, administrator of the Putnam County Health Department, said Thursday.

More than 5,000 people lined up at Palatka High School to receive vaccinations Wednesday, and the program continued Thursday. The state health department said anyone between the ages of 2 and 22 in the Palatka or East Palatka area should get immunized.

Six people are known to have the disease and two others are believed to have it. The six confirmed victims are recovering, health officials said.

Officials became aware of the outbreak Dec. 12, when a 2-year-old tested positive.

Health officials cautioned that even after being vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, Palatka-area residents should remain aware of symptoms because the vaccine takes seven to 10 days to take effect.

Common symptoms include fever, headache and a stiff neck and can develop over several hours, or several days.

Other symptoms include vomiting, confusion and sleepiness. People in the affected area who experience these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Bacterial meningitis can be transmitted through saliva and nasal secretions, but health officials say close contact is required. Talking or shaking hands with an infected person does not increase risk.

_ People seeking additional information can call the Department of Health hot line at 1-888-880-5782 or check the department's Web site at http://www.doh.state.fl.us

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