The number of confirmed and suspected viral meningitis cases affected University of Maryland students has grown to 31, with 19 requiring hospitalization for their illness. This is up from 19 cases about two weeks ago.

Two School of Public Health professors offered some advice concerning prevention and symptoms to look for:

University of Maryland , College Park Image/Video Screen Shot
University of Maryland , College Park
Image/Video Screen Shot

“[M]y emphasis would be to be alert about the symptoms, and to not hesitate to go to your primary care physician immediately with concerns,” said Dr. Muhiuddin Haider, a research associate professor in the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health. He also noted that the meningitis vaccine is only available for bacterial meningitis, not the viral kind that is affecting the campus.

While symptoms of viral meningitis often mimic the flu, Dr. Gretchen De Silva, lecturer in the Public Health Science program at College Park, said that more severe cases may include sensitivity to light, stiffness of neck, and nausea. She said that washing hands, not sharing items, and boosting one’s immune through sufficient sleep helps prevent catching meningitis.

The debilitating, but rarely fatal viral meningitis(a.k.a., aseptic meningitis) is a very common type of meningitis affecting newborns, children and adults alike.

The symptoms of viral meningitis typically last a week or so; however, in some patients they can last for months. Symptoms include headache, fever, irritability, stiff neck, nausea and a sensitivity to light.

The Meningitis Foundation of America says viral meningitis is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing a cup, utensil, lip gloss, or cigarette). Viral meningitis is also found in one’s stool, which is how infants and neonates who aren’t toilet trained and adults changing diapers develop it.

There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis at this time. Treating the symptoms of viral meningitis include getting plenty of rest, relaxation, fluids, and medicine to relieve a fever or headache.

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