Four Alaska communities report incidents of viral meningitis

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Cases of viral meningitis have been reported in four Alaska communities, state health officials said.

Four cases occurred in Fort Yukon, two in North Pole, two in Fairbanks and one in Eagle River.

Meningitis is inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord covering, and can be caused by viruses or bacteria.

Since the end of August, nine Alaskans have been hospitalized with symptoms of fever, moderate to severe headache, and a stiff neck. All were children between 2 months and 14 years of age, according to a bulletin issued last week by the state Section of Epidemiology.

The bulletin also pointed out that the viruses causing meningitis often were the same within a community, but different when comparing one community to another.

Dr. Marc Chimonas, with the Section of Epidemiology, said health officials have been hearing false reports that the cases were bacterial.

The bacterial form is much more deadly than the viral form and requires treatment with antibiotics. The viral form has no specific treatment, but hospitalization may be needed to administer intravenous fluid replacement and pain control.

Reports of viral meningitis are typical in Alaska this time of year, Chimonas said. In fall 2001, the state reported a viral meningitis outbreak involving 76 people, many of whom attended a camp in the Prince William Sound area.

In the latest cases, all of the children have recovered and can return to school, Chimonas said. There's no need to isolate a child with the illness, he said, because anyone has the potential of carrying viruses that cause viral meningitis.

Viruses can spread through contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva or nasal discharge, as well as feces. To prevent further spread, people should thoroughly wash their hands and disinfect objects that could be infected.

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