El Dorado County: Cases Of Viral Meningitis Rise

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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El Dorado County health officials are aware of an unusually high number of viral meningitis cases this year. “So far, we’ve already had 30 cases of viral meningitis in El Dorado County, compared to seventeen cases last year,” said Dr. Dean Kelaita, Interim Health Officer for El Dorado County. “Meningitis can be quite serious. We want to let people know we are seeing this increase in the community so that they can take precautions.”

Communicable disease control staff in the El Dorado County Health Services Department, who track and make recommendations to local healthcare providers about diseases such as meningitis, have been in contact with health officials from the California Department of Public Health. CDPH has received reports from several other counties in California that have had a similar increase in cases. “Meningitis tends to be cyclical. It is common to see an increase in cases every two to four years,” said Nina Deatherage, Registered Public Health Nurse for the Health Services Department.

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. There are two distinct types of meningitis; viral (caused by viruses) and bacterial (caused by bacteria). Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis; while most anyone can get viral meningitis, it is most often seen in children and young adults.

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Most cases of viral meningitis are caused by viruses called “enteroviruses.” These viruses are spread by direct contact with saliva or mucus of an infected person. The virus is also frequently spread to others by contact with feces, especially among small children who are not toilet trained and to adults who change diapers of an infected infant. Most people who become infected with viral meningitis have minimal or no symptoms, but some people become very ill and can require hospitalization. In addition, it can take several weeks to fully recover.

Symptoms of meningitis may include sudden headache, nausea, fever, vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, and eyes sensitive to light. Symptoms in infants can include irritability, refusal to eat, and difficulty walking. Symptoms usually begin within 3-10 days after exposure to an infected person.

There is no specific antiviral treatment available for viral meningitis. Bed rest, fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headaches can help a person with viral meningitis feel better. Hospitalization, if needed, is usually for the purpose of symptom management (pain, fever and/or dehydration) and to be sure the person is not infected with bacterial meningitis. “Bacterial meningitis is even more serious than viral meningitis, and can result in disability and death if not treated promptly,” said Dr. Kelaita. “Because symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis are very similar, it is best to contact a healthcare provider if you become sick with meningitis symptoms.” Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics.

Meningitis can be prevented with good hygiene, and by not sharing items that have another person’s saliva on them, such as eating utensils, drinking containers, or cigarettes. Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the toilet, after sneezing or coughing, before eating, after changing diapers, and before handling food or drink. In settings such as child care centers, washing objects and surfaces with a dilute bleach solution (1/4 cup of household bleach mixed with one gallon of water) can help destroy the virus.

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