In a pre-emptive move, Rhode Island officials declared holiday for schools and nearly 20,000 students stayed home following fears of a meningitis/encephalitis outbreak, after the death of a student to encephalitis two weeks ago.
Dr. David Gifford, director of the state's Public Health Department , said, "Given the parents' concerns and our concerns, we felt that out of abundance of caution we would keep schools closed for the next two days. Calling it an outbreak at the time is premature."
The meningitis case came to light in a student studying at Hopkins Hill School in Coventry. Encephalitis which also involves swelling in the brain is triggered by a virus and became the cause of death in a Warwick student barely a fortnight ago.
Health experts now intend to probe about more such cases in schools and hospitals. The scientists in Rhode Island will be backed by the epidemiologists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help in controlling any potential outbreak.
"This is a significant development, and the governor is monitoring it closely to ensure that we are doing everything possible to determine the cause and stop the spread," Jeff Neal, the health spokesman said. Health and school officials are expected to meet soon to decide the date of reopening of the public schools.