Local health officials were quick to dispel Monday that people have contracted meningitis after swimming in Stansbury Lake.
Rumors on social media over the weekend claimed that several cases of meningitis were due to swimming in the lake.
“That is not the case. There is no indication or proof of that,” said Becky Trigg, spokeswoman for Mountain West Medical Center.
“We have had four cases of viral meningitis during the past month,” Trigg said. “There was an assumption by two people who both had it, and knew each other, and had both swum in the lake, that they got it from the lake. Cultures confirmed these cases were not bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis can be caused by many different types of viruses.”
The Tooele County Health Department also responded to the rumor spread on social media.
“What the health department knows, as of today (Monday), is that there has been no pattern of a single organism causing meningitis-like symptoms in individuals or groups,” said Amy Bate, public information officer for the health department.
“If there are any reportable diseases in an individual or group, the health department follows, tracks and will make known to the public any risk of a particular location or activity. There have been far fewer cases (of meningitis) than have been reported on social media,” she added.
“Four cases in a month is an increase for our county, but that is not only here in Tooele. That increase is being seen statewide,” Bate said.
Dr. Jim Antinori, an emergency room doctor at MWMC, said that four cases of meningitis detected in patients at the hospital seems high.
“The number of cases varies by the time of year, usually there are more cases in the winter,” Antinori said.
“It is rare to contact it through swimming in a lake,” Antinori said. “Someone who had the virus would have to shed the virus from the bowels or digestive tract. And that would have to get into someone’s mouth. Stansbury Lake is a pretty large structure, the water is extremely diluted.”
He added, “Oftentimes, people come to the emergency room, and we are able to do a test to determine if they have meningitis.”
The doctor said bacterial meningitis is more severe than viral meningitis. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website said both types can be deadly, but those with viral meningitis usually recover in 7-10 days without specific treatment.
Antinori said the symptoms for viral and bacterial meningitis are similar, and include onset of fever, headache and stiff neck. There are often other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and altered mental state.
“The Tooele County Health Department and Mountain West Medical Center work closely to track all cases of reportable disease,” Bate said. “Both organizations work with the Utah Department of Health and the Utah State Public Health Laboratories to determine if diseases are present in an individual or group.”
Bate said someone may be diagnosed with meningitis, but it is not reported to the health department until lab results show that there is some type of association and risk to the public.
“The health department does not test lake water unless there is something confirmed (multiple tests showing the same organism) and at that point the health department would work with the state to do testing,” Bate said.