Viral meningitis can be fatal, but that’s not likely to happen in the case of Kings leading scorer and center DeMarcus Cousins, who’s been sidelined by the illness but clearly falls short of the profile of patients at risk of severe complications.
As a robust, otherwise healthy athlete, Cousins should be able to beat the virus with a few days’ rest. Those most vulnerable to a bad outcome would be babies, older people and patients with compromised immune systems, such as those who’ve recently undergone organ or bone marrow transplants or chemotherapy.
That’s not to say Cousins is immune from typical symptoms, which include high fever, lethargy, sleepiness, lack of appetite, nausea, headaches and a stiff, achy neck, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But of all three forms of meningitis, the viral version is the mildest. Others include fungal and bacterial.
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Causes of viral meningitis include non-polio enteroviruses, which have been circulated in the United States this year, sickening some children. A handful of rare cases have cropped up during which neurological symptoms are paired with loss of sensation in limbs of children who fell ill with the uncommon disease.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, collectively known as the meninges. Typically, bed rest is prescribed, and, for Cousins, a team news release said, “The Kings medical staff recommends further rest before demands of an NBA schedule can be tolerated. He will continue to be monitored daily, with basketball-related activities expected to resume when his health allows.”
While non-polio enteroviruses are the most common cause, other viruses that trigger cases of meningitis include herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, the varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles and chickenpox, mumps, measles, the West Nile virus and the flu virus.
Almost all of these viruses are targeted by vaccines available from a doctor, clinic or retail pharmacy. In most cases, a healthy adult will recover on his own within seven to 10 days, although lethargy and sleepiness may linger afterward.
There’s no specific treatment for viral meningitis, although antiviral medicine can be helpful, as it is against flu viruses. Antibiotics help only in cases of bacterial meningitis, which is more dangerous than the viral type.
Naturally, Kings’ fans will want to know if other players are at risk of catching viral meningitis from Cousins, who was in the arena the first few days he felt sick. According to CDC experts, extremely close contact with the sickened individual – hence the illness’ common nickname as a “kissing disease” – may lead to exposure to the virus. But the likelihood of developing another full-blown meningitis case is low, they said.
Typically, Kaiser South Sacramento’s hospital system does not discuss individual cases out of the need to protect patient privacy. A trio of Kaiser sports medicine experts work with the team to help avoid injuries.
Public health officials issued their usual recommendations to avoid getting sick this season: get vaccinated, wash hands often, avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose and, if you do feel ill, stay home and rest.
For more information, see the CDC’s information on viral meningitis at www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html.
Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.