With so much attention focused on the student cases of viral meningitis at Wilton High School, there’s widespread concern about the possibility of it spreading to more students, both at WHS and at other Wilton schools.

Wilton parent Corinne Lee is a Clinical Nurse Specialist and assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Sacred Heart University, and is currently a doctoral candidate. She’s got some very simple words of wisdom for parents to reinforce with their children and help limit the chances of catching viral meningitis, let alone any viral illness.

“What the kids need to do is be vigilant about hand washing. It can be readily transmitted if good hand-washing practices are not adhered to. A lot of these teenagers think they can throw some antibacterial gel on their hands and it’s fine. It’s really not,” she says.

Sounds overly simple, but basic reminders about how to wash hands properly is always GOOD practice, especially when there’s worry and rampant talk about what’s spreading.

Lee says the school does have an obligation to inform parents, both about the existence of the cases and about good practice to follow to try and help stop the spread of illness. On Friday, letters were sent to all parents in the district about both the meningitis cases in the high school as well as the separate Enterovirus D68, because cases of that illness have appeared in CT.

“Every time they go to the bathroom, they need to wash with soap and water and dry with paper towels. That’s what needs to be communicated. What we need to focus on is proper hand washing. Having Purel bottles attached to your backpacks is not going to cut it. Don’t sneeze and cough into your hands–do it into your sleeve. If you know someone who has these symptoms, steer clear.”

There is also something that can be spelled out even more clearly–one of the potential causes of viral meningitis is the enterobacter pathogen, which Lee says is often found in fecal matter. “If you do use the bathroom, and you do clean yourself, those germs can be left on your hands. With an already compromised immune system, that’s what begins the chain reaction,” she explains.

What complicates things further is that the students are in a congested, tight environment for up to 7-8 hours a day. “Oftentimes, windows are not open, they’re not getting outside, it’s easier for this virus to be harbored.”

One factor that may be at play is that students and parents are wary of the high school’s attendance policy, and are worried that grades will be reduced if students miss class for any reason.

“Symptoms of viral meningitis usually last for 7-10 days. If they’re having a really bad headache, or feeling sleepy, they may still show up in school, because of respect for the attendance policy. High fever and a sensitivity to light, a stiff neck is a classic symptom. But I think it would be prudent that in light of the meningitis cases, if students have any of the symptoms, they probably should reach out to a guidance counselor or advisor, ask to take work home. There’s got to be some flexibility in attendance policies like this.”

Time recuperating at home is really the only way to treat viral meningitis once a person has it–and to prevent spreading it to other people. Village Pediatrics in Westport said this very directly on their Facebook page, in making recommendations to their patients:

“KEEP YOUR SICK KIDS HOME if they are coughing a lot, have had a fever or vomited in the previous 24 hours, or generally just don’t feel well. Most of these viruses are transmitted through droplets–from coughing, saliva, snot and vomit (or diarrhea.) We know it is tough to keep HS students home, but they also know how to best manage their secretions when sick. Even then, keep them home if they are persistently coughing or have fever…If your child has symptoms of meningitis (bad headache with stiff neck, fever, rash or vomitting) you should also pay us a prompt visit.”

“It is a virus like any other virus in that it does spread, and there are no medications to treat it,” Lee explains. “There are medications that treat the symptoms, but none to treat the virus itself.”

Still, Lee cautions that there’s no need to panic. “It’s not a highly virulent virus. We’re not in a third world country. It won’t become epidemic. Could there be more cases? Absolutely. But it’s really contact with an infected person that increases the chances of getting infected. What’s more serious is bacterial meningitis, that’s potentially fatal. I think what happens is people hear ‘meningitis,’ and they think the worst.”

Overall, Lee wants to reinforce the important message:  “No matter how busy you are, hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. Twenty seconds, clear your hands. Use a paper towel, because whatever germs are left on your hands can get dried off with a paper towel. Sneeze in your arm, things like that. It’s the prevention we need to focus on and not be reactive.”