Rochester Hills Lifetime Fitness Bacterial Meningitis Scare

The Oakland County Health Department is concerned that Lifetime Fitness day campers in Rochester Hills, Michigan may have been exposed to bacterial meningitis from a sick worker.  The employee worked in the camp section only of the health club.  It is not believed that other members of the gym were exposed, but it is possible that other camp counselors and camp workers could be infected with the disease.

What is bacterial meningitis?

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that outline the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called meninges, giving the illness its name: “meningitis.” Meningitis can be bacterial or viral. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious type. Without prompt treatment, bacterial meningitis can cause paralysis, stroke, seizures, sepsis, and even death.

What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?

The main  symptoms of bacterial meningitis are:

  • high fever
  • stiff neck
  • severe headache

Other symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • confusion
  • a rash of purple discoloration

How is bacterial mengititis transmitted?

The infection is caused by a number of different types of bacteria and is commonly spread through close personal contact, like coughing, sneezing, and kissing.  It is not always spread to by an infected person to another preson through close contact and there may be no transmission at all between people.  People with weak immune systems, like those already ill or babies, are more susceptible to transmission of the disease.

How is the condition diagnosed?

If a person has the signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis, samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (fluid near the spinal cord) are collected and sent to the laboratory for testing. The presence of bacteria in the sample can confirm the presence of the infection.  Other cultures can also identify the condition.

What is the treatment for bacterial meningitis?

The disease is primarily treated through antibiotics.  Most patients who are diagnosed and treated in a timely manner have no major lingering effects and make a full recovery.

What should parents do if their child camped at Lifetime Fitness in Rochester Hills, Michigan?

The health department is advising that parents take all campers who may have been exposed to the sick worker to their pediatrictions for immediate testing.  Any delay in the diagnosis of the condition can lead to serious consequences. 

Parents should be asking whether Lifetime Fitness knew that the worker was ill, when it first learned of the illness, and what it did to protect the children once it learned that the employee had bacterial meningitis.  They should also be concerned about the corporate policy for asking employees at the start of every camp day whether they are ill or have been feeling sick withing the last twenty four hours.  Their are a number of potential infections and other conditions that can be transmitted to campers and sick counselors should be sent home before the start of the day if any potential illness is suspected. 

There are simply too many children who can be exposed to a devastating condition in a short time and all preventative measures should be taken.  The answers to these questions are currently unknown to the public but hopefully the health department will find them. 

Can health clubs be liable for outbreaks of diseases?

Health clubs have been the subject of lawsuits in the past around the United States in cases involving the spread of infections and diseases.  This inlcudes food poisoning, Legionnaire's Disease, norovirus, and other other conditions.  The club could be liable if it failed to take appropriate measures to protect people at the facility.  In Michigan, it must be established that the club knew or should have suspected a worker had bacterial meningitis and was negligent by not sending the worker home, notifying parents, or even sending the campers home once the condition was identified.  These things could have limited the spread of the infection between kids attending the camp.

Hopefully, the condition is limited to the one counselor and that person fully recovers from the infection.  If parents follow the advice of the health department and seek prompt testign, a potential catastrophe can be avoided without serious harm to any of the over two hundred campers.

Lawrence J. Buckfire
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