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Orange County

Viral Cases of Meningitis Up 36% in County

August 12, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Cases of viral meningitis in Orange County are up about 36% this year compared with the same period last year, the largest increase since 1992, health officials reported Monday.

The disease "has a seasonal cycle," said Dr. Hildy Meyers, the county's medical director of epidemiology. "It comes every year, and some years are worse than others. We seem to be clearly on the path of a big year."

So far this year, 223 cases of the disease, which is rarely life-threatening, have been reported in Orange County, compared with 164 cases during the same period last year, health officials said. The trend echoes one statewide, Meyers said, with some counties reporting a doubling or tripling of viral meningitis cases.

"As with a lot of infectious diseases," she said, "it probably has to do with either the introduction of a strain that hasn't been circulating in the area for a while, or [the presence of] people who haven't been exposed before."

Viral meningitis is typically much milder than the bacterial form but often presents many of the same symptoms, including fever and headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and confusion.

Viral meningitis usually runs its course in about a week, Meyers said.

But to ensure that symptoms aren't from the bacterial form, which can be fatal, sufferers should consult a doctor, officials said.

"There's no specific treatment for viral meningitis," she said. "We just try to relieve the symptoms and make someone more comfortable."

To avoid catching or spreading the disease, she said, wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, avoid sharing drinks and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

If the disease follows its usual pattern, Meyers said, the number of cases should begin tapering off in October.

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