Health officials clarify details of Carson meningitis scare
Carson City and state health officials were quick to clarify details after receiving several calls from concerned parents Wednesday about a mysterious illness that struck five children at a Carson day-care facility.
Though Carson-Tahoe Hospital said Tuesday the children likely had aseptic viral meningitis, tests results could take up to two weeks to be confirmed.
“We really don’t know what it is,” said Carson City Health Director Daren Winkelman. “We may be dealing with more than one bug.”
Tests have been ordered for spinal fluid taken from two children admitted to the hospital since Thursday. Five children between ages 2 and 3 were admitted between Thursday and Saturday and put on antibiotics as a safety measure, Winkelman said.
All were cared for at the same Carson child-care center. Though state and city health officials are investigating the illness outbreak there, Sierra Vista Children’s Academy is not the only center where children have become sick in the past few weeks, officials said.
Doctors reported to health officials Wednesday that several other children have had fever and similar symptoms lately, Winkelman said.
“It’s not the facility; it’s spread person to person,” he said.
Winkelman said health officials in the city feared using the “M-word,” or meningitis, to identify the illness if it will cause doctors or parents to order needless spinal tap testing of children.
In the painful test, a needle is inserted into the lower back to draw spinal fluid. Doctors reported drawing cloudy fluid from both patients who had spinal taps last weekend, indicating the presence of an infection, Winkelman said.
The infection was first determined not to be bacterial meningitis, said state health division spokeswoman Martha Framsted.
The department suspects the illnesses is caused by an entero virus, the most common cause of viral meningitis, Framsted said.
Carson health specialist Dustin Boothe gave a presentation on hand washing at the Sierra Vista Children’s Academy on Wednesday night in response to the outbreak.
Care-center owner Lynn Wagner said it got a “bad rap,” and staff at the center always practice clean habits, like teaching the children to cover their mouth when they cough and wash their hands before they eat and after using the restroom.
“We’re doing even more of that right now,” Wagner said. “We’re doing lots of hand washing with the children and just emphasizing good hygiene as much as we can.”
The facility was entirely cleaned with bleach over the weekend, and the toys have been scrubbed continually since, Wagner said.
“The staff is being cooperative in working with any suggestions the health department has provided,” she said.
Staff has taken the temperature of children twice daily at the school and sends them home immediately if high temperatures are found, she said. Children are then kept in separate classrooms to safeguard against more exposure.
State health officials continue to investigate the illness outbreak, but are most concerned about the possibility of bacterial meningitis. Tests have all come back negative for bacterial meningitis, Framsted said. Viral meningitis has still not been ruled out, she said, but the viral form does not require antibiotics.
Parents are being asked to pay attention if their children develops nausea, headaches or fever, and to seek medical treatment if needed. Also, parents are asked to remember to wash their hands after diaper changes and practice good hygiene.
“Symptoms may not be the same for every person,” Framsted said.