By Marjorie Nesin
---- — More than a half dozen Gloucester High School football players are believed to have contracted a form of viral meningitis in August.
But school and city health officials said Thursday they believe the virus has cleared up, that none are or were considered to be serious or dangerous cases, and that there is no health threat to other students or to the public.
Lianne Cook, the city’s public health nurse, said Thursday that there has only been one confirmed case of viral meningitis, but that others are likely, awaiting laboratory test results.
Multiple members of the football team were admitted to the hospital in August, she confirmed.
“There were a couple of hospital admissions, but there have been no more lab results confirming anything,” Cook said.
The football team began practice in August, more than two weeks prior to Wednesday’s first day of school and tonight’s opening football game, which also marks the grand opening of the newly reconstructed Newell Stadium (see related story, Page 3). Since no new cases have been reported, the virus poses no threat to the game or to the public, officials said.
All potential cases of the virus were reported to the state’s Department of Public Health in Boston, according to school district nurse leader Cindy Juncker.
The Department of Public Health requires hospitals and state-funded agencies to report all cases of viral meningitis. While illnesses like mononucleosis and influenza need not be reported, viral meningitis joins illnesses like salmonella outbreaks, measles and whooping cough on a list of reportable diseases.
Viral meningitis spreads through saliva and mucus, making students who play team sports particularly susceptible to the virus. It is usually characterized by symptoms including a high fever, stiff neck, headache sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite that last 7 to 10 days.
“It’s not particularly contagious, but it spreads in tight clusters, like on teams,” Juncker said.
Unlike the potentially deadly bacterial meningitis, however, symptoms of viral meningitis usually clear up without antibiotics in about a week’s time.
“Bacterial meningitis is a totally different thing than viral meningitis,” Juncker said. “Viral is much more common, and you usually don’t treat it with an antibiotic because it’s a virus.” Some parents who contacted the Times about the illness compared it to the flu.
The school handed out information fact sheets to the entire football team, and lectured players on the importance of not sharing water bottles and proper hand washing. The football team’s equipment was all cleaned too and the school is providing paper cups for students to use during practices, according to Juncker.
“The thing that we’ve been really talking to the students about is not sharing water bottles, and if you’re sick, stay home, cover your cough or sneeze, wash your hands thoroughly,” Juncker said.
Since the school has seen no new cases since August, according to Juncker, school officials have only addressed the students on the football team, not the student population at large.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.