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Airline Meningitis Scare

A teenager who fell seriously ill on an AirTran Airways flight was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, and the airline was contacting passengers who sat near her, a spokesman said.

The girl, whose identity wasn't released, was in critical condition Monday at Wesley Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The teen had traveled Saturday from Orlando, Fla., to Atlanta on Flight 862 and then to Wichita on Flight 687, AirTran spokesman Dave Hirschman said. The crew called for an ambulance to meet the plane at the gate after the girl became sick on the second flight and unresponsive, he said. The airline notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday.

A CDC spokesman said this is not a serious public health risk because of the short durations of the flights.

Even if one of the flights had been longer than eight hours, added CDC spokesman Curtis Allen, the agency would have notified only the passengers on the immediate left and right of the passenger now diagnosed with meningitis because meningitis is not communicable through casual contact, only direct contact.

Meningitis, a bacterial infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, primarily affects children, killing about 10 percent of those infected. Symptoms include a stiff neck, high fever, headaches and vomiting.

It can be contracted by direct close contact with discharges from the nose or throat of an infected person, but not through casual contact or breathing the same air.

The planes the girl traveled on have been thoroughly cleaned and returned to service, and AirTran was notifying fewer than 20 people who sat in her immediate vicinity, Hirschman said. The airline is a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings Inc., based in Orlando, Fla.

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