Meningitis outbreak may force change in Thanksgiving practices

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Washoe County Health District reports a total of 53 people have been diagnosed with Meningitis this year-- with a large majority of the cases being hospitalized. But that number may be deceiving. That's because hospitals must report the disease when it is diagnosed at the facility.

Other residents who may have experienced a mild form of the disease don’t end up in hospitals.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many people that have the mild form of the disease. They don't go see the medical doctor, they don't go to the ER. They are not hospitalized. So that's why we may miss a lot of sick people there,” says Lei Chen, Ph.D, Washoe County Health District Chief Epidemiologist.

Dr. Chen says 72% of the cases in Washoe County are children; more than half of them are school age. 28% are adults.

Patients interviewed report sharing drinks or food with someone before becoming sick. About 30% of patients were in group sports like football, volleyball, or cheerleading.

Dr. Chen says the connection may be sharing water bottles or other food products as well. That had us wondering about the Thanksgiving Day Holiday where many people share food off the same fork, or the same glass.

“Please do not share drinks, cups, containers, eating utensils, straws any object which might be contaminated with other people's saliva,” says Dr. Chen.

Dr. Chen says the virus that is behind the local meningitis outbreak comes from the gut and is also responsible for hand in mouth disease, common cold and conjunctivitis. Symptoms will show up between 2 to five days after exposure. They include sore throat, high fever, headache, stiff neck and sensitivity to light.

Besides not sharing food off the same plate, utensil or out of the same cup, frequent hand washing is recommended. And just because you are feeling better nursing yourself back to health for seven to ten days, you are not out of the woods.

Health experts say you can still infect others 11 weeks after being exposed.