Seven students in three York County school departments have contracted viral meningitis over the past week, the schools have reported, but a handful of students getting sick does not signal an impending outbreak, a top state health official said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal CDC don’t track viral meningitis cases, so it’s difficult to determine whether this fall is better or worse than previous years. Hospitals and other health care providers do report bacterial meningitis – which is more rare and dangerous than viral meningitis – to the state and federal health agencies. There have been no reported bacterial meningitis cases in Maine this year and there were two cases in 2014.

But Dr. Siiri Bennett, Maine’s state epidemiologist, said it’s typical to see viral meningitis cases surface in the fall, when school begins.

“We see more viral meningitis cases at this time of year. This is when the virus is most active,” Bennett said.

With school in session, students are in close contact with each other in classrooms and while participating in sports and other activities. The congregation of people aids the spread of the virus.

Hundreds of different viruses can turn into viral meningitis – an inflammation of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord – with symptoms that include vomiting, fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, loss of appetite or fatigue. The symptoms are similar to bacterial meningitis, which is why it’s important to get tested, Bennett said. Health professionals can test for meningitis through blood, serum, rectal or other methods.

“Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, and it can be very severe,” said Bennett, noting that some bacterial meningitis patients die or lose fingers or limbs from the disease. In contrast, viral meningitis tends to resolve itself within a week or 10 days and typically does not cause any lasting damage, Bennett said.

There is no treatment for viral meningitis, other than rest and supportive measures to ease symptoms.

The prevention of viral disease is similar for all viruses – practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands with soap and water and not sharing utensils or drinking glasses.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” Bennett said.

On Tuesday, the Saco School Department notified parents of a viral meningitis case at Saco Middle School.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Dominic DePatsy said there is no need for alarm, but staff would more frequently clean bathrooms, faucets and drinking fountains, classrooms and the cafeteria.

“We are doing ‘double cleanings’ right now,” DePatsy told the Portland Press Herald.

Saco Middle School Principal Laurie Wood said absenteeism rates are normal for this time of year.

Elsewhere in York County, Regional School Unit 57 officials confirmed Tuesday that four students have contracted viral meningitis. That district covers Newfield, Limerick, Lyman, Alfred, Waterboro and Shapleigh.

Last week, North Berwick-based School Administrative District 60 reported two students had meningitis.

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