Winnipeg meningitis alert no worry here

The Northwestern Health Unit said there’s no cause for alarm here after Winnipeg health officials last week asked parents to watch for viral meningitis in children as they return to the classroom.
More than 20 cases of the disease–an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord–were reported in Winnipeg in July and August, causing one death.
The ages of the people afflicted varied from less than one-year-old to 40.
“We are having an outbreak this year,” noted Dr. Digby Horne, one of Manitoba’s medical officers of health, adding the vast majority of people with viral meningitis don’t have serious problems.
“The bacterial [meningitis] is more likely to result in more serious disease,” he said.
“This is probably not the biggest thing to worry about with kids going back to university,” noted Ken Allan, team leader for communicable disease control at the Northwestern Health Unit here.
Dr. Horne agreed, noting the chance of it spreading didn’t increase inside the university classroom. But the biggest preventive measures people can take, he suggested, was washing their hands, not sharing food, and putting a hand over their mouths when they cough or sneeze.
The viruses that cause meningitis are common and contagious but typically, infected people show no symptoms or just develop a cold or rash with low-grade fever.
Less than one in 1,000 people infected actually develop meningitis.
“If you are around someone who has viral meningitis, you have a moderate chance of becoming infected, but a very small chance of developing meningitis,” said Dr. Margaret Fast, Winnipeg’s medical officer of health.
People who contract viral meningitis can experience fever, severe headache, stiff neck, drowsiness or confusion, nausea and vomiting, and bright lights may hurt their eyes.
Symptoms normally last seven to 10 days, and persons infected usually recover completely without treatment. But viral meningitis can be life-threatening to newborns.
People with bacterial meningitis suffer similar symptoms, and specific testing is needed to distinguish between the two.
Meanwhile, Allan assured no meningitis cases have been reported in the Kenora/Rainy River District since the one in Rainy River in May.
“We would expect to get a case at some point during the year, given our population,” he said, noting statistics showed one case for every 100,000 population was the norm.
“Meningitis is an unusual occurrence,” he remarked.