Athens Bible School President Randall Adams says the local school is not experiencing a “meningitis outbreak” as has been reported on some Internet social media sites.
Adams told The News Courier Wednesday the school had at least one case of viral meningitis. Although he declined to cite the exact number of cases, he said he had contacted the Alabama Department of Health and was informed the ABS cases do not constitute an outbreak of the disease.
“They have told us that this strain of meningitis — the viral version — is no more dangerous than the flu virus at this time,” Adams said.
He said the Health Department defines an outbreak as two or more related cases involving more than 10 people.
What is viral meningitis?
Meningitis is a general term for inflammation of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. Anyone can contract meningitis, but it is more common in teens and young adults. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says there are five types of meningitis, including:
• Viral meningitis — Caused by such viruses as enteroviruses and herpes simplex viruses. It’s serious but rarely fatal in people with normal immune systems. There are vaccines to prevent some kinds of viral meningitis;
• Bacterial meningitis — Caused by such bacteria as Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can be a life-threatening infection that needs immediate medical attention. There are vaccines to prevent some kinds of bacterial meningitis;
• Fungal meningitis — Caused by such fungi as cryptococcus and histoplasma. Usually acquired by inhaling fungal spores from the environment. People with certain medical conditions like diabetes, cancer or HIV are at higher risk of fungal meningitis;
• Parasitic meningitis — Caused by parasites and less common in developed countries. Parasites such as Angiostrongylus cantonensis can contaminate food, water and soil;
• Non-infectious meningitis — Not spread from person to person but can be caused by cancers, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), certain drugs, head injury or brain surgery.
Adams said the school has had “some concerns” over the past two weeks and is trying to address the issue. He said the school sent out a general email reminding students and staffers to wash their hands and refrain from drinking from the drinks of others in order to prevent the spread of illness. In addition, he said the school has been “extra diligent in cleaning restrooms and reminding students and staff to wash their hands and to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.”
Adams said he would continue to closely monitor the situation at the school and remain in contact with the Health Department.
The day after Christmas in 2007, Athens High School student Jessica Elkins died as a result of bacterial meningitis. (Not the kind that has been identified at the Bible School). The Elkins’ family launched an effort to raise awareness of the disease and to buy inoculations for some who cannot afford them. The city has designated Sept.23 as Meningitis Awareness Day each year.
Meningococcal disease, which can cause meningococcal meningitis, strikes about 3,000 Americans yearly. Of those, 10 to 12 percent will die and up to 20 percent of survivors will experience long-term disabilities, according to the Elkins family.
The vaccine does not prevent all types of meningitis but does prevent some bacterial and viral forms of the disease.
Last Thursday, Johnson Elementary School reported two cases of shigellosis, an intestinal infection caused by bacteria. It can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal pains but rarely requires hospitalization.