Public hospitals in the Garden Route have recently reported an increase in Enteroviral Meningitis cases. In South Africa, seasonal peaks occur, especially in warmer months.
George Hospital has seen a total of 71 patients with suspected enteroviral meningitis since 1 February 2019. Eleven cases have been confirmed by the laboratory. Most of these cases are children under 14 years of age. Another sub-district with an increase in suspected enteroviral meningitis cases is Mossel Bay. Mossel Bay Hospital has seen a total of 19 cases of suspected enteroviral meningitis since 1 February 2019. Knysna Hospital has also seen an increase in cases with a total of 66 suspected cases of enteroviral meningitis. None of the cases was from a single geographical area or source.
This is not the bacterial form (known as meningococcal) of meningitis. No deaths and no cases with serious complications have been reported to date.
Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that is found in the spinal cord and that surrounds the brain. It is usually caused by an infection with a virus or a bacterium (micro-organism). Enteroviruses are the most common cause of viral meningitis worldwide. It is a common virus that can enter the body through the mouth and travel to the brain and surrounding tissues. It is a mild illness and the majority of ill people will recover within a week (7 – 10 days).
People of all ages are at risk. However, the risk of getting the disease is higher in individuals who are immune compromised and children less than 5 years old. Common symptoms of enteroviral meningitis in children include fever, poor eating, irritability, lethargy (lack of energy) and sleepiness. Adults may present with fever, stiff neck, headache, dislike of bright lights (photophobia), lethargy, sleepiness, and lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Western Cape Government Health has strengthened its efforts within the affected sub-districts with a focus on handwashing and general hygiene. Community Health Workers have also been trained around the reinforcement of hygienic practices.
Good hygiene practices including hand washing after using the toilet, changing nappies or visiting sick people and disinfection of surfaces will reduce the chances of getting an enteroviral infection. Covering your cough or sneeze, and washing hands thereafter is also helpful.
How can you prevent getting infected?
- Hand hygiene (regular handwashing with soap and water) and good personal hygiene helps to prevent infection with many viruses including enteroviruses.
- Wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet, before preparing food, and after sneezing and coughing.
- Adults should teach and encourage children to wash their hands properly, and emphasise regular handwashing when children are at school and in contact with many other children.