A student’s illness is prompting KFDM to examine the difference between viral and bacterial meningitis. Doctors are treating a Nederland High School student for a suspected case of viral meningitis. The principal says, as of Wednesday evening, they have no new information.
Dr. Seth Stephens, a nurse practitioner, is the director of disease management services at Baptist Hospital’s SmartHealth Clinic.
“Generally meningitis is a disease that’s an inflammation of the meninges which is the covering of the brain itself.”
The two most common forms of meningitis are bacterial and viral. He says viral meningitis symptoms are less severe.
“Most people that contract viral meningitis recover without any lasting effects to their health, and generally also there’s not a particular prescribed treatment for viral meningitis. Typically it’s supportive therapy and symptom management,” said Stephens.
Doctors are treating a Nederland High School student for a suspected case of viral meningitis. Stephens says it’s rare for viral meningitis to spread.
“If everything is confirmed as viral, the chances of it spreading or the chances of it having lasting effects on the patient are very, very low,” said Stephens.
Stephens says bacterial meningitis is far worse and spreads easily.
“The symptoms tend to be much more severe,” said Stephens, “and if it’s not treated and caught quickly can result in death relatively fast.”
He says bacterial meningitis can also have lasting effects after treatment.
“The after effects and the risk of death and significant health problems is much higher with bacterial meningitis,” said Stephens. “Even after treatment certain patients can have brain damage, hearing loss, and some very significant lasting effects, even with treatment, and there’s about a 20 percent death rate with patients with bacterial meningitis.”
Symptoms for both bacterial and viral meningitis include high fever, severe headaches, nausea, stiff neck, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. The symptoms for bacterial are more severe and also include seizures and a purple skin rash. Sometimes, patients go into a coma. Stephens says there are vaccinations for meningococcal disease and meningococcal meningitis.
“Currently the CDC recommends that adolescents and children age 11 to 12 receive an initial vaccination and then a booster vaccination around the age of 16.”
Stephens says it’s important for parents to vaccinate their children to protect against bacterial meningitis.
“Our rates of meningococcal disease and meningococcal meningitis are actually the lowest they’ve been in the country for quite some time,” said Stephens, “and that’s mostly attributed to the vaccination.”
Lisa Smith has a daughter at Nederland High School. She’s pleased the principal notified parents.
“My mind was at rest whenever he notified everyone and just told us what was going on. They’ve always done a good job of keeping us informed with things going on at the high school,” said Smith.
Smith is relieved the student is suspected to have viral, not bacterial meningitis.
“Absolutely our prayers go out to that student.”
If your child has a high fever or flu-like symptoms, Stephens recommends you take them to a doctor.
Click here to see the Nederland High School principal’s note to parents.

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