- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Fairfax County officials yesterday confirmed three new cases of viral meningitis, bringing to six the number of countywide infections.

“It is likely there will be more cases in the county during this season,” said county Health Department spokeswoman Kimberly Cordero, citing data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials expect at least 120 cases among the county’s 1.2 million residents this year.

Officials began monitoring viral meningitis cases June 18, the day after Courtney “Kay” Richard, 16, died of the disease. Courtney attended Chantilly High School.

The monitoring effort, coupled with a telephone hot line, has resulted in 20 meningitis investigations, Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, director of the county Health Department.

Tests showed that six Fairfax County residents had viral meningitis, Dr. Addo-Ayensu said, adding that 11 others showed some symptoms of meningitis and may have the virus.

All those diagnosed with viral meningitis have recovered or are recovering, health officials said.

“There’s nothing mysterious about what’s happening in Fairfax County,” Dr. Addo-Ayensu said. “The only thing that’s mysterious and sad is the death.”

Citing issues of confidentiality, Dr. Addo-Ayensu would not specify details about the three new meningitis cases but said officials confirmed on Friday the most recent one.

Dr. Addo-Ayensu said that with the ending of the academic year, schools are no longer the focal points for spreading viral meningitis.

A classmate of Courtney’s and a schoolteacher at Armstrong Elementary School in Reston were hospitalized with viral meningitis.

Health officials have not pinpointed exactly what killed Courtney. They say there is no effective treatment for viral meningitis, considered less severe than bacterial meningitis.

“Symptoms can only be alleviated,” Miss Cordero said. “Their body just has to fight it off.”

Meningitis infects the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. The viral version of the disease is milder than the bacterial form.

Symptoms, which usually develop within one week of exposure, include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, neck pain, nausea and vomiting, rashes and sensitivity to bright light.

Viral meningitis is common during the summer and is spread by sharing drinks, lip balm, and eating utensils, Miss Cordero said. The most effective way to protect against the virus is to wash the hands thoroughly and often.

“Right now, it doesn’t appear that anything’s spiking,” said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health.

Mrs. Caldwell said viral meningitis is not a reportable disease, so health officials do not have exact statistics on it.

“We’re on heightened awareness,” Mrs. Caldwell said.

“We communicate with hospital disease nurses all the time — every day.”

Dr. Addo-Ayensu said Virginia recorded 262 cases of viral meningitis in 1997, the last year the record was kept.

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