The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 18, 2011

Meningitis reported at Fayette school

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

SMITHERS — Two confirmed cases of viral meningitis have been reported at Valley High School, say school officials. Parents were informed of the situation by way of letters and a meeting last Thursday, which was attended by about 100 parents and students.

While school attendance dropped last week because of parental concerns over spreading the illness, Valley Principal C. Lee Loy says attendance is back to normal this week.

Last Friday, 100 students were out of school, says Loy. He also reports that the number decreased to 68 Monday, which is an average absentee rate for the school of 545 students.

Fayette Schools Superintendent Dwight Dials says that his office first began receiving calls about the situation early last week.

“We try to stay on top of these things,” he says. “The minute we get a call, we call the health department and our nurses. We want to be as responsible as any parent would be and make the appropriate decisions and follow all the proper protocols.”

"We rely on the medical professionals in Fayette County to guide us,” says Associate Superintendent Serena Starcher. She says the county’s medical director, Donald Newell, felt strongly that school should not be closed, especially since the cases were viral and not bacterial.

Dials says the situation at Valley seems stabilized, and that extra precautions have been taken to sanitize and disinfect the school.

“It’s pretty much run its course, or it is in the process of doing that,” says Dials.

Viral meningitis is often confused with the more serious bacterial meningitis. While the latter is a reportable disease under Centers for Disease Control regulations, says Starcher, viral meningitis is no longer reportable, meaning it poses less of a threat to public health.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that viral meningitis is “serious but rarely fatal in people with normal immune systems.” Symptoms usually persist for seven to 10 days. Because the symptoms of both bacterial and viral meningitis are the same, it is common to take precautionary measures and also give antibiotics to patients with viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis is most commonly contracted in the late summer and early fall months, especially in younger individuals. It is often caused by an enterovirus, a common agent of infection that presents as a “summer cold” type of illness. Less common causes include mosquito bites, measles and herpes simplex viruses.

The virus causes inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. It can only be diagnosed by testing a patient’s spinal fluid.

Both of the students who contracted the virus are on the middle school football team, officials said.

Loy says both students with viral meningitis are also being treated for bacterial meningitis with an antibiotic regimen. While there is no known treatment for viral meningitis, the symptoms are treated with aspirin and anti-nausea medicine.

Symptoms of viral meningitis are similar to those of the common cold. These include headache, stiff neck, sudden high temperature, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, sore throat and muscle ache. More severe cases will cause confusion, sensitivity to bright lights and seizures.

According to the CDC, being around someone with viral meningitis poses a risk of contracting the virus that initially made the person sick, such as the enterovirus, but there is not a strong chance of developing meningitis as a result of the infection.

Starcher reports that when Newell spoke with staff at Charleston Area Medical Center, they reported an increase number of viral meningitis cases this fall across the state.

The letter sent home to parents on Thursday included four pieces of advice for families in preventing contracting viral meningitis or any viral illness. These include making sure the child’s immunizations are current; making sure everyone in the family washes their hands regularly, especially after using the restroom or when preparing food; practicing “cough etiquette;” and consulting the family doctor if anyone in the family is ill.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com