Second meningitis case reported in school

By Rita Kyriakides

HEALTH officials yesterday sought to reassure parents after the second case of viral meningitis to strike the same school in as many days.

Another first-form pupil from the Soleas Gymnasium in the Limassol district has now been diagnosed with viral meningitis – the less virulent strain of the highly contagious disease – causing panic as parents removed their children from the school.

But Dr. Chrystalla Hadjianastassiou, Senior Health Officer at the public health department, yesterday sought to play down the fears.

“There is no specific problem at the Soleas Gymnasium. It can happen at any school. It is just a case of keeping schools clean so the infections do not spread,” she told the Cyprus Mail.

She said parents of children attending the school were frightened because meningitis was unknown to them, but added everything had now settled down.

The situation has been made easier by the fact the gymnasium has now ended the school year, with children only coming in for exams for two to three weeks in June.

But the President of the National Confederation of Parents of Secondary Schoolchildren, Elias Demetriou, said yesterday the increase in meningitis over the last year was a serious concern.

“More precautions have to be taken at the schools. Public places need to be kept clean to avoid this phenomenon,” he said.

Last year, Cyprus saw over 100 reported cases of viral meningitis, a five- fold increase since 1999. Reported cases of the disease have risen to 58 so far this year, 52 of which have been in the Limassol District. But as the majority of infections occur over the summer months, so this year’s total is likely to be even higher that that for 2000.

The Health Department admitted yesterday the increasing rate of infection was becoming disturbing, with an average of seven cases a week affecting children between the ages of three and 11.

Health officials also say many cases go unreported, as they are not deemed serious enough for a visit to the doctor. However, parents are warned that the symptoms, which include the sudden onset of intense headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and stiff neck, are similar to the more dangerous, sometimes fatal, bacterial form. Someone with a severe case of viral meningitis will need to be admitted to hospital for test to find out which form they are suffering from.

Hadjianastassiou said the Health Department believed the disease was being spread from person to person.

“The primary advice is to observe personal hygiene after using the toilet and hand washing with hot water and soap before eating,” she recommended.

“It’s what we’ve said many times and will repeat it again and again.”

Other precautions include keeping the door handles of bathrooms clean and discouraging children from inserting items such as pencils into their mouths, as this can spread the infection.

In addition, glasses and cups should not be shared and those responsible for changing nursery children’s clothes that have been soiled should make sure they wash their hands between children. Hadjianastassiou also advises that windows be opened regularly to help maintain a clean and fresh environment.

“Although people thing it can’t happen to them, it can. We are all very sensitive to enterovirus action,” she warned.