A teacher at Armstrong Elementary School was hospitalized Friday and diagnosed with viral meningitis — the third viral meningitis case in Fairfax County in the last week.
The teacher’s identity is being withheld because of privacy concerns, as are the teacher’s age and the grade he or she teaches. The teacher remains hospitalized, but is in stable condition, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
Two 16-year-old Chantilly High School students were diagnosed with viral meningitis last week, leaving one dead and the other hospitalized.
Courtney "Kay" Richard died Thursday after being hospitalized for four days at Fairfax Inova Hospital. The other girl infected with meningitis remains hospitalized, though she is listed in stable condition and is improving.
There does not appear to be evidence of a connection between the Armstrong Elementary and Chantilly High cases, said Kimberly Cordero, the county health department’s spokeswoman.
Viral meningitis is more common than people might think, Cordero said. An average of one person out of 1,000 people infected with a virus that can lead to the condition actually exhibit symptoms. Many viruses, including Herpes and West Nile can lead to meningitis, she said, but it is rare for the virus to manifest itself into meningitis.
Most people infected with viral meningitis recover fairly quickly, though hospitalizations are not uncommon, Cordero said.
The county health department does not keep track of viral meningitis cases, though it does track the more rare bacterial meningitis.
The recent spate of viral meningitis cases has drawn the public’s attention primarily because of Richard’s death late last week, Cordero said.
"We’re all kind of shaken by that news," she said.
Also, a 12-year-old boy who attended Franklin Middle School in Chantilly died suddenly the same day as Richard. The boy’s autopsy results are expected this week, though health officials know he did not have meningitis because he did not exhibit symptoms prior to his death.
PAUL REGNIER, a spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools, said there is little cause for alarm because the chance of widespread infection is very slim.
"We’re concerned because we’ve had one death and that’s pretty awful," he said. "But we are assured that this is a very low-level risk. This is the equivalent of the flu. This is not a public-health emergency."
Armstrong Elementary School parents generally believe their children are safe, particularly because the school year ended Friday and students are no longer in close contact, said Craig DuBois, the school’s PTA president.
"I’m not hearing a lot of concern," he said. "I myself have a low level of concern. I’m keeping an eye on my kid and if he starts to develop symptoms, I’ll take him to a doctor."
IT IS NOT UNCOMMON to see an increase in the number of viral meningitis cases during the summer or fall because those seasons typically see higher rates of enterovirus infections, a group of viruses that can lead to meningitis.
These viruses can be spread through a variety of ways, but can generally be spread through direct contact with secretions, such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus. This can happen through shaking hands with an infected person or sharing a glass of water.
Cordero said more viral meningitis cases sometimes occur at the end of the school year because students and teachers will share water bottles and utensils at picnics.
"People don’t think about it," she said. "They share water bottles. They share lipstick. Don’t do that. People can’t become complacent."
The most common symptoms of meningitis include severe headaches, stiff neck, fever, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to bright light. The incubation period is typically between three and seven days from the time of infection until symptoms develop.
Frequent hand washing is probably the best way to avoid infection, Cordero said.
Should symptoms develop, citizens are urged to seek medical attention immediately, she said.