Viral meningitis cases, reported at several Muskegon County schools, up this year

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – Several area schools have reported cases of viral meningitis, but that’s usual for this time of year and not cause for concern, said Muskegon County’s medical chief.

There have been 20 reported cases of viral meningitis so far this year, according to Public Health Muskegon County. Viral meningitis is not nearly as serious as the less common bacterial meningitis.

The number of cases of viral meningitis is significantly higher than in recent years; the average number over each of the past five years was less than eight. But it’s significantly lower than 10 years ago when there were 198 cases reported, according to public health records.

“It’s always up and down,” said Dr. Douglas Hoch, medical director for the county health department. “But we’re definitely having a year.”

Schools reporting cases are Mona Shores Middle School, Muskegon Heights’ MLK Elementary, Ravenna High School and Oakridge upper and lower elementary schools, according to the health department. Adults – not just school children — have also been diagnosed with the viral illness, according to the health department.

While people often become alarmed when they hear about meningitis, they shouldn’t be if it’s viral meningitis, Hoch said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, people generally recover on their own within seven to 10 days. Antibiotics don’t help viral meningitis but are critical in the treatment of bacterial meningitis.

The trouble is that the symptoms of viral meningitis are very similar to the dangerous bacterial meningitis, primarily a very stiff neck, headache and high fever.  It’s imperative that people who have those symptoms seek medical attention, even in an emergency room, to rule out bacterial meningitis, Hoch said.

The CDC notes that it’s critical to get patients with bacterial meningitis treatment with antibiotics as soon as possible. Bacterial meningitis can cause paralysis, brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, amputations and death, according to the CDC.

Viral meningitis tends to appear in late summer and early fall, Hoch said. It’s typically caused by enteroviruses that are found in the intestinal tract and tend to spread in warm water such as those in small lakes and swimming pools, he said.

Most people who are exposed and therefore can spread the virus causing meningitis don’t show symptoms and never get sick, Hoch said. That’s why regular hand washing is imperative, he said.

Lynn Moore is a reporter for MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email her at lmoore8@mlive.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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