By Kyle LoJacono
Pasco County had its first confirmed case of bacterial meningitis this year on Feb. 15. Deanna Krautner, a spokesperson for the county health department, confirmed there was a case of the disease in the Pasco School district.
Dr. David Johnson, director of the county health department, said all forms of meningitis are infections of the brain and spinal cord and is spread by very close person-to-person contact such as kissing and sharing drinks or utensils. He said it is possible for someone to spread the bacterial form by coughing or sneezing, but in rare cases.
“That would be if someone coughed right in someone’s face,” Johnson said. “Not from the other side of the room. It isn’t as contagious as a cold or the flu.”
The most common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are high fever, headaches, stiff neck, but can also cause vomiting, sensitivity to bright lights and sleepiness. The disease can cause damage to the brain and spine and Krautner said about 10 percent of those who get the disease die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Krautner said college students are usually more at risk because they tend to live in close quarters with others in dormitories. Also, pre teenagers and travelers are at a higher risk.
There is a vaccine for some forms of bacterial meningitis, but not all. Johnson said the recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a part of CDC, is for everyone between ages 11-18 get the vaccine.
The best treatment for the bacterial form is with antibiotics. Krautner said the sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome.
There is no preventative vaccine for viral meningitis, but the symptoms are much more mild with that form of the disease. While it is more common, most people with normal immune systems rarely die from the disease, according to Krautner.
Several viruses can cause viral meningitis, including mumps, measles, chickenpox and the flu, but it is rare for those to progress. Those who catch the virus usually recover in seven to 10 days with rest.
Krautner said the Pasco department investigates all confirmed causes of meningitis, but only the bacterial and two other rare forms are tracked. There were no confirmed cases of bacterial meningitis in the county last year, one each year in 2009 and 2008 and again zero in 2007. There were four cases in 2006. On the state level, 52 people had confirmed infections in 2009.
For more information on the disease, call the Pasco County Health Department at (727) 861-5250. In Hillsborough, call (813) 307-8015.