Five weeks after fending off concerns about harmful bacterial skin infections at four high schools, Anne Arundel County school officials were combating another public health scare this week: pneumonia.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health has confirmed at least six cases of mycoplasma pneumonia at a Severna Park elementary school.
The bacterial respiratory illness, characterized by headache, coughing, sore throat and fever, is spread through hand-to-hand and hand-to-nose contact with an infected person.
Symptoms can take as long as 30 days to appear, but it is easily treated with antibiotics, said Dr. Katherine Farrell, deputy health officer for public health with the county Department of Health.
Parents at Oak Hill Elementary School received three letters about the illness - one in the October school newsletter, another Sept. 21 and a third Oct. 4.
The last letter was the first to mention mycoplasma, a common bacterial cause for sore throat, bronchitis and pneumonia.
"We didn't refer to mycoplasma earlier because it takes time to determine what it is," Farrell said.
As a half-dozen cases were confirmed during September and October, Farrell said, she worked with the school to increase precautions to prevent infection.
The school nurse began lessons about the importance of hand-washing and covering the mouth and nose when coughing, and classrooms had extra boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer available, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.
The school also began cleaning tables twice a day to reduce the likelihood of lingering germs.
"I think with the letters, the extra cleaning, the school was about as proactive as it could be," Mosier said.
Kris McNally, a parent of triplets in fifth grade and a second-grader at Oak Hill Elementary, said she was happy with the way the school handled the situation, though a media report suggested that parents were upset that the school played down the health risk.
"I was in the school recently, saw some students walking to lunch, and saw the teacher give some hand sanitizer to every one of the students," McNally said. "We got letters. I feel like parents got the information necessary."
Last month, Anne Arundel school and health officials urged better hygiene after receiving reports of 28 Staphylococcus infections in four high schools - Severna Park, Glen Burnie, Old Mill and Chesapeake.
Many of the cases were reported after an initial batch at Severna Park, which fanned concern among parents who complained about what they called dingy athletic facilities at high schools.