Gauteng Health allays fears over meningitis

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Johannesburg - The Gauteng Provincial Health Department has allayed fears that there might be an outbreak of meningitis in the province.

This after the disease claimed two lives in the province, in the past two weeks, with the first victim, a 15-year-old learner at the Mondeor High school dying from bacterial meningitis and the second a seven-year-old boy from the Emaweni Primary School in Soweto dying from viral meningitis.

Experts say the two cases were not linked. Viral meningitis is not contagious and poses no threat to people in contact with the victim, while bacterial meningitis can be fatal. However, all the people in contact with the victim in this case were treated with antibiotics.

Department spokesperson Phumelele Kaunda said on Thursday that with regard to the second case, as a further precaution, the department's Outbreak Response Team dealing with cases of meningitis visited the Emaweni Primary School, as well as the community of Senaone in Soweto where the child lived to monitor the situation on site and offer relevant information to persons who were in contact with him.

"Nobody was found to have signs of the illness including the fatal bacterial meningitis," Ms Kaunda said, adding that the cause of death and its implications was explained to the parents and will be communicated to dispel fears of an outbreak in the school as well as the community.

Fears of a meningitis outbreak started last week after the 15-year-old learner died from bacterial meningitis.

About 600 learners, staff members and school committee members at the school as well as 15 other children and a driver, who were traveling in the same taxi with the learner, received preventative medication.

"After the girl's death, a teacher and four other learners were admitted in hospital as a further precautionary measure," Ms Kaunda said last week.

Head of Epidemiology and Outbreak Response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Dr Lucille Bloomberg, said there was no link between the two meningitis cases.

She said the latest case held no risk of other people getting the infection.

"They are completely different and the latest case is an isolated case and has no risk of other people getting the infection," Dr Bloomberg told BuaNews.

She added that bacterial meningitis mostly occurred between June and October, emphasising the importance of early treatment.

The signs for meningitis are severe headache, fever, vomiting, irritability, reduced consciousness and rash on the body.

It is spread through drops of fluid from the mouth, throat or nose of someone who has the illness.

To prevent meningitis, the department has advised that one must avoid contact with any person suspected to have the illness, and people must also wash their hands after touching the affected person.

Those who experience these symptoms or have been in contact with people with meningitis should immediately present themselves at a health facility where they will be examined and given the necessary medication.