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Health district warns of viral meningitis cases

Southern Nevada Health District officials are urging residents to practice healthy hygiene habits because of increased reports of viral meningitis cases in recent weeks.

To halt the spread of the illness, which is caused by the common enterovirus, Brian Labus, a health district epidemiologist, said individuals are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, stay home when sick and “put your hands over your mouth” while coughing or sneezing.

Enteroviruses, which are second only to common cold viruses in prevalence in the United States, are spread from person to person through contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions, saliva, stool, or surfaces contaminated with bodily secretions from an infected person.

The viruses cause a variety of ailments, including gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, and viral meningitis. About 90 percent of viral meningitis cases are caused by enteroviruses, which are more common during the summer and fall, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis and the least serious, health officials say.

As with most communicable diseases, Labus would not say how many people in Southern Nevada have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks. However, according to the health district’s Web site, 31 aseptic or viral meningitis cases have tested positive through the agency’s epidemiology department through August. That figure is down from 34 as of August 2006, according to statistics.

But Labus said those statistics do not reflect what’s happening communitywide. “We also have many cases that get reported to us that do not count in the official numbers,” he said. “This is because we use a set-case definition to decide who counts as a case and who does not. This is not to say that the people we exclude were not sick, it’s just that they don’t meet our criteria.”

Labus said everyone is at risk of contracting viral meningitis, but infants, children and adolescents are more susceptible because they are less likely to have the antibodies. Adults can become infected as well.

Most people who are infected show no symptoms. Infected persons who become ill usually develop mild upper respiratory symptoms, a flu-like illness with fever and muscle aches, or an illness with a rash.

Not everyone has the same symptoms nor do they seek medical attention, Labus said.

Currently there is no treatment for viral meningitis and most patients recover on their own. Doctors often recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids and medicine to relieve fever and headache, health officials say.

Symptoms typically last seven to 10 days. It isn’t deadly and rarely requires hospitalization, Labus said.

When the health district reports its official September numbers, there will be an increase in cases.

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