Two men have died of meningitis in the past two weeks, and a total of eight cases of the illness have been registered, Public Health Vice-Minister Delia Villalobos told The Tico Times this week.
Four cases of meningococcal meningitis, a contagious infection caused by the meningococcus bacteria, emerged among employees of Delroyal Scientific, a medical equipment manufacturer in the Global Park industrial complex in the province of Heredia. One of them, Jeremías Bravo, 26, died Feb. 27 at San Vicente de Paúl Hospital in Heredia.
Another form of the infection, one caused by the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, took the life of José Gerardo Carranza, 28, in the province of Alajuela on March 3.
Three other cases of meningitis have emerged in the central Pacific port city of Quepos, in the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles, and in Hatillo, in San José.
The Health Ministry says people should not be alarmed about these cases, because the only unusual thing about them is that four cases emerged at a single workplace.
Meningitis, which causes inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal chord and brain, has three types in its meningococcal form, A, B and C, Public Health Minister María del Rocío Sáenz explained.
While vaccines exist for A and C, and can be applied to all those who have been in the vicinity of an infected person, no vaccine exists for B, the type that struck the Global Park company, she said, explaining that the disease is spread through close contact with an infected person.
Vice-Minister Villalobos said 25% of the population carries meningitis bacteria in their respiratory system, and not everyone develops an infection.When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they can pass the bacteria to others who may or may not develop the illness.
The symptoms of meningitis, which exists in viral and bacterial forms, include severe headaches, high fevers of more than 40 degrees Celsius, drowsiness, and a general ill feeling, Sáenz said.
According to Villalobos, in its viral form, meningitis is less severe, but it can also lead to death if not treated.
Meningococcal meningitis, a severe form of bacterial meningitis, includes the above symptoms, but strikes much faster and may push the patient into a coma within hours, Minister Sáenz explained.
Preventive measures recommended by Villalobos include maintaining hygienic standards at home and work, washing your hands and cleaning shared machinery or work tools.
People who display symptoms should visit the nearest health clinic, Sáenz said, adding that once meningitis is diagnosed, it is treated with antibiotics.
Approximately 400 meningitis cases, both viral and bacterial, are registered throughout the country each year. Of those cases, 25-30 resulted in death, she said.