MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT NO. 35
Mary C. Nash, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
October 1, 2015
Dear Members of the Marshwood Community,
There has been much discussion in the media recently about students in local districts having viral meningitis. Just the word meningitis is misunderstood! Unfortunately the media has been broadcasting cases of viral meningitis that have been popping up across the state, as though there is a possible epidemic starting! There is a huge difference between viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis occurs when a particular bacteria infects the meninges membrane lining the spinal cord and brain. Bacterial meningitis is very serious and has the potential to become epidemic. Fortunately, there are no current cases of bacterial meningitis reported for the State of Maine!
Viral meningitis on the other hand can happen when a cold, flu, or other type of virus infects the meninges causing the body’s immune system to create more incapacitating symptoms such as headaches, fever, stiff neck etc. than what is normal with the flu/cold virus. It is not epidemic, although a virus may spread from one person to another, whether it manifests itself as viral meningitis is rare. The treatment for viral meningitis is the same as with a cold or flu as well as the prevention, clean hands, cover sneezes and coughs etc. We have passed this information on to our faculty and staff (and to our high school students) to let them know that there is no real concern for alarm. Students and staff should stay home if they are not feeling well enough to engage in learning.
From what I have learned about viral meningitis, the diagnosis is obtained from laboratory tests of spinal fluid via a spinal tap. The common symptoms of viral meningitis are similar to other flus and viruses i.e. high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting.
Therefore, on September 24, 2015 I asked the district’s lead nurse, Judy Doran, to contact the Maine Public Health department and she spoke with the field epidemiologist for York County, Jeff Caulfield, about the recent outbreak of viral meningitis in Maine. Jeff noted that Maine has not experienced any sign of bacterial meningitis (which is very different from viral meningitis). Jeff provided us with the following information about viral meningitis:
- There are many different viruses can cause meningitis. The one suspected of causing the one in the State of Maine right now is enterovirus, a very common virus that peaks in activity in the late summer and fall.
- Meningitis is a symptom or complication of this infection, which means that not all people who contract this virus will experience meningitis.
- Viral meningitis is not an uncommon disease. There is no specific treatment other than supportive measures. People typically recover completely within 7-10 days.
- Viral meningitis is not a reportable condition in the State of Maine, which makes comparing the incidence this year with previous years tricky. (Their curiosity is piqued but they do not have the data to compare.)
- The Federal CDC is also noting some clusters in other states.
- The usual protocols of hand washing, covering coughs and staying home when ill are recommended.
- The recommended cleaning protocol is covered by the standard excellent work of our custodial staff.
The Maine Center of Disease Control has encouraged districts not to send global letters out to their school communities about individual cases of viral meningitis but to answer any specific questions on a case by case basis. Therefore, if you have any specific questions or concerns about viral meningitis, please feel free to confer either with your local school nurse or with our district’s lead nurse, Judy Doran whose office is located at Marshwood Middle School.
Mary Nash, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools