Viral meningitis outbreaks in Watauga County, no cases reported on campus

Anne Buie

A few cases of viral meningitis have been reported in Watauga County, but Health Services is unaware of any cases on campus, Health Services Director Dr. Robert Ellison said.

Viral meningitis is typically less severe than bacterial meningitis, which can cause severe permanent neurological damage and even death, Ellison said.

Meningitis causes the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord to swell, and is usually caused by the spread of an infection.

Viral meningitis is more common than both bacterial and fungal meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis include fever, severe headache, neck pain and stiffness, vomiting, body pains and rashes. It is easy to confuse the early symptoms of meningitis with the symptoms of the flu, Ellison said.

Doctors use what they call a three-day rule-out period to diagnose meningitis, Ellison said. Tests are conducted that can yield results within a time period ranging from a few hours to a few days.

Doctors will typically culture a sample of cerebrospinal fluid as the definitive test.

Patients are usually immediately put on antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial meningitis, but ineffective in treating the viral form of the disease.

If the results confirm viral meningitis, antibiotic treatment will be discontinued and the patient will be put on supportive treatment, Ellison said.

Since viruses such as the flu cause viral meningitis, Ellison stresses the importance of getting an annual flu shot, he said.

Supportive treatment involves treating the symptoms of the illness with fever reducers, bed rest and plenty of fluid.

Viral meningitis will usually clear up within a week or two.

Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of meningitis should seek medical attention immediately. It is important to be treated before the conditions worsen, which could be fatal, Ellison said.

Building a strong immune system by exercising regularly and participating in healthy eating habits is important to prevent illness, Ellison said.

Director of the Human Performance Laboratory David Nieman studies the connection between exercise, nutrition and the immune system.

Nieman’s studies indicate 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise several days a week will significantly lower the risk of becoming ill, he said.

Evidence also suggests that eating three or more servings of fruit every day can also reduce the chance of illness.

Story: JULIEANNE PIKE, Intern News Reporter