Sykesville woman gets meningitis Viral strain is less serious than form that killed student

Patient, 22, hospitalized

Medication is given to ease pain, nausea

release likely soon

March 25, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

A 22-year-old Sykesville woman was admitted yesterday to Carroll County General Hospital with viral meningitis, a less serious form of the illness that killed a Baltimore college student last weekend.

The woman, who hospitals officials declined to identify, will probably be released in a couple of days, said Dr. Mark M. Wheeler, an emergency medicine physician at the hospital.

He said members of the woman's family and others who came into contact with her have an "extremely low" risk of contracting the illness.

"It's a respiratory virus that everyone in her family was exposed to, and she was the only one who managed to get it, which means she had enough of a defect in her immune system that it slipped through and got into her meningeal space [the covering of the brain]," Wheeler said.

"We're giving her pain medicine, medication for nausea and plenty of fluids. Essentially, the body's immune system takes care of the infection all by itself," he said.

Meningitis, a progressive inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain, is found in two main forms: viral and bacterial, Wheeler said. The bacterial type of infection is frequently life-threatening, requires hospitalization and is treated with intravenous antibiotics.

In the viral strain of the illness, a hospital stay is rarely necessary to treat the typical symptoms associated with the disease, including headache and nausea.

Wheeler said doctors at Carroll County General decided to admit the Sykesville woman because of extreme nausea.

The viral form of meningitis tends to have seasonal peaks in the spring and fall, he said.

Gerry Case, a 19-year-old Loyola College freshman, died Saturday of Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterial type of meningococcal infection, said Dale Rhone, chief of the communicable disease surveillance division of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

This year, there have been 20 cases of bacterial meningococcal diseases in Maryland, including a Morgan State University cheerleader who died. Typically, the number of cases at this time of year is between 8 and 20, Rhone said.

"We're in the high range," he said. "We don't have a specific reason [for the higher numbers]. It goes in cycles, some years we have more than other years."

In Carroll, two cases of bacterial meningitis were reported in 1996, said Debbie Middleton, the county Health Department's supervisor of communicable diseases. One case was fatal and the other patient recovered, she said.

In the wake of Case's death, health officials at Loyola College in Baltimore spent the weekend trying to reassure students concerned about their health. In February, a Loyola senior became ill with meningitis, but a roommate familiar with the symptoms took him to the hospital and he recovered.

Since Loyola alerted students and faculty Friday that there had been a second outbreak, the college health center has fielded hundreds of calls.

The news of meningitis on a Baltimore college campus has not had much of an effect on students at Western Maryland College in Westminster. There have been no additional inquiries about the illness to the college's medical services center, said Donald W. Schumaker, a college spokesman.

"Western Maryland College is extremely aware of the seriousness of meningeal infections, and the medical services staff encourages students to seek treatment immediately for symptoms of concern to them," Schumaker said in a statement.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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