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Infectious Diseases

Updated 25 November 2015

Possible meningitis outbreak in Pretoria

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has warned of a possible viral meningitis outbreak in Pretoria after five children were diagnosed with the condition.

The Pretoria area might be experiencing an outbreak of viral meningitis, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID).

21 suspected cases of viral meningitis were recently presented at a private hospital in the vicinity. All were children, and in five cases there was a confirmed diagnosis.

Viral meningitis most common

The children were admitted to the hospital with symptoms of meningitis or fever with muscle pain and abdominal intestinal symptoms. 

18 subsequent cases of viral meningitis were reported at other private facilities in the area.  

Three tested positive for an enterovirus. 

Only one of the cases involved a child that was not younger than ten years. 

Read: Early meningitis hurts marks

The NCID said South African data indicate that viral meningitis occurs more often during dry summers.   

According to the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, viral meningitis is the most common kind of meningitis and is most commonly caused by an enterovirus.    

It is often less serious than bacterial meningitis, and most patients recover after seven to ten days without treatment.

The total death rate is low. 

Good hygiene essential

Babies younger than one month and people with a weakened immune system may however get very ill.   

“These infections are not uncommon and are typically mild,” says Prof Lucille Blumberg from the NCID.

The last outbreak of viral meningitis in Gauteng was during the summer of 2010/11 in the Pretoria area. 

A baby or young child can only get meningitis from very close contact with an infected person because the organisms that cause the disease cannot survive for long outside the body.

Transfer of enteroviruses between people is usually oral or faecal. (Common means of transfer include being touched or kissed, sharing cutlery and crockery and people close by coughing and sneezing.)

According to the NCID the virus is often transferred due to poor hand hygiene and contaminated food and water. Children younger than five years are mostly affected. 

“The most efficient way to prevent the spread of enteroviruses is by thorough handwashing and the general practice of good hygiene.” 

People who come in close contact with patients with viral meningitis do not have to be treated with preventative antibiotics. 

Symptoms in babies and young children

Children, especially those under the age of five, have the highest risk of developing viral meningitis and can display the following symptoms:

- Sensitivity to light

- Headaches

- Neck stiffness

- High fever

- Nausea and vomiting

Read more:  

Meningitis survivors

"Don't panic about meningitis"

Meningitis vaccine slashes cases by 94%  

(Article adapted and translated from Netwerk24)