Four Cumberland University students, along with officials at the college, can breathe a sigh of relief after learning the strain of meningitis the students have is viral and not the more deadly bacterial.
Four unidentified male students, who are all student athletes at Cumberland, tested positive for viral meningitis, according to Dr. Lorraine McDonald, regional health officer for the mid-Cumberland region, which includes Wilson County.
McDonald said the students don’t live together. Three were treated at University Medical Center in Lebanon and one at TriStar Summit Medical Center in Hermitage.
“There were some college-age students who showed some symptoms of meningitis,” said UMC spokesperson Adam Groshans, who said the students were quarantined in the hospital’s emergency room during treatment.
One student was admitted Sunday at UMC, and two were treated at the hospital on Monday. The fourth student was treated Tuesday at Summit.
McDonald said Wednesday the students’ conditions were improving and she expected each to have a full recovery.
“They are all doing well,” McDonald said. “We’ve been speaking with Harvill Eaton, and our public relations people are in touch. Fortunately, it’s exam week, and people are dispersing.
“The good news is it’s not bacterial, there is no public health risk and it’s easy to manage.”
Cumberland University spokesperson Phillip Carter echoed McDonald’s sentiments.
“I think the big news is that it was not the bacterial. They have all tested negative for that,” Carter said. “One of the biggest things we do on campus is obviously education. In addition to that, our cleaning crews are doing a good job of sanitizing things. But to say we have stepped up; we are already doing a lot to keep students safe, so we are maintaining what we do.”
McDonald said the students were all hydrated with fluids during treatment. She said the difference between viral and bacterial meningitis is vast, as well as diagnosing each in a patient.
“When you do a spinal tap, you look for the color of the fluid,” she said. “When it is sent off to the lab, white cell count, glucose and protein are looked at. The bacteria would consume the glucose, so there would be a low glucose count.
“Bacterial meningitis is really hard to miss. The people are really sick.”
McDonald said this is the first year state public colleges have required vaccinations for meningitis. She said the two-injection process generally keeps people from contracting meningitis for life.
“This year is the first year the Board of Regents said the vaccination for meningitis was required for college students, especially those living in dorms,” McDonald said. “The bottom line is to get vaccinated.”
Most recently in Wilson County, Sam McCleod, 9, died in September 2012 from bacterial meningitis. He was a student at West Wilson Elementary School in Mt. Juliet. Health officials said at the time McCleod’s case was not contagious.
Jacob Nunley, 18, of Dyersburg, also died in September 2012 of bacterial meningitis. He was a freshman at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Ian Tisdale, 5, died in June 2011 from bacterial meningitis. He was a student at Southside Elementary School in Lebanon.