Clusters of viral meningitis found in two Manhattan schools

Working closely with the New York City Department of Education (DOE), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is investigating clusters of viral meningitis in two Manhattan schools (4 students at La Guardia High School, 2 students at Stuyvesant High School).

Viral meningitis is a less severe form of meningitis and is generally not life threatening. DOHMH and DOE are asking parents and students at these schools to be alert for symptoms of viral meningitis, which include fever, headache, and stiff neck. If symptoms appear, the student should be kept home from school and seen by a medical provider. DOHMH has also reminded area medical providers to report cases of meningitis to the Health Department. A review of current surveillance data shows no evidence of a citywide increase in viral meningitis.

DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said, “While cases of viral meningitis, even in a school setting, are not an immediate cause for alarm, we are investigating all of these illnesses to determine the linkages. Most people exposed to the viruses that cause meningitis do not get seriously ill. Some people may require hospitalization, but they usually recover fully within a few days. As the illness is viral, it is not treatable with antibiotics and there is no vaccine to prevent this strain of meningitis. Frequent and thorough hand washing is an effective way of stopping the spread of these viruses.”

Four individuals became ill with viral meningitis at La Guardia High School between May 2 and May 18. One individual remains hospitalized, but all four individuals have either fully recovered or are doing well. Yesterday, two cases of viral meningitis were reported to DOHMH from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Both illnesses occurred within the past 10 days. One of the individuals has recovered fully. The other remains hospitalized, but is doing well and is expected to be discharged soon. It is not currently known whether the illnesses in these two schools are connected; viral meningitis tends to increase in the warmer months.

As is customary whenever cases of viral meningitis are identified in school settings, DOHMH and DOE work closely together to educate parents and students about how to prevent infection from spreading to other students, what symptoms to look for and what to do if such symptoms occur. In general, students who are ill should be kept home from school. Students should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before eating, and should not share food, drinks or utensils.

Viral meningitis is an infection of the lining (meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord. It is usually a relatively mild illness, but may require a few days in the hospital until other forms of meningitis are ruled out. Patients usually recover within a short period of time and do not need any specific medication. Many viruses can cause meningitis, but most people exposed to these viruses experience no or mild symptoms. Each year, DOHMH receives reports of between 200 and 400 cases of viral meningitis, mostly occurring in late summer/early fall. Symptoms generally appear within one week of exposure, and may include fever, headache, stiff neck, and fatigue. Rash, sore throat and intestinal symptoms (e.g., vomiting) may also occur. Anyone who becomes ill with these symptoms should consult their medical provider.

For more information on viral meningitis, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/cd/cdvmn.html.

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