Meningitis closes schools and kindergartens across Georgia

Educational institutuoins are closed for all pre-school children and pupils up to Grade 7., 21 May 2014 - 18:59, Tbilisi,Georgia

A viral disease is swarming through Georgian schools and kindergartens, forcing education institutions throughout the country to temporarily close.

Schools and kindergartens across Georgia have been suspended after increasing reports of children suffering from viral meningitis in the past few days.

As of this morning, 142 cases of viral meningitis had been reported in Georgia, said Health Minister Davit Sergeenko at a press conference today.

He said the youngest patient was two years old and the oldest was 34.

Today the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health made a joint decision to suspend a selection of classes from tomorrow (May 22). Those affected by the school closures are all kindergarten children and all pupils up to Grade 7 level.

At this stage classes would resume on Tuesday 27 May.

The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said viral meningitis was often less severe than bacterial meningitis however it could be fatal depending on the virus causing the infection, the person’s age and general health.

Georgian authorities said they would reevaluate the situation at the beginning of next week. If the situation deemed necessary, further classes would be suspended.

Health Minister Sergeenko claimed this type of disease did not have a specific vaccine. He said the only effective way to prevent the disease was to have a high standard of personal hygiene.

Sergeenko said most of those infected were pre-school and elementary school students. He said it was believed the disease was spread by human-to-human contact by people with unwashed hands.

"As the habit of washing hands frequently is not properly developed among small children, we decided to suspend educational lessons only for those until 7th Grade," Sergeenko said.

At today’s press conference he spoke in general terms about viral meningitis and said 150 cases were usually reported in Georgia each year. The Minister said the disease tended to follow a four-year pattern and would reemerge on a cyclic basis.

"We had similar situations in 2006 and 2010 too,” he said.

The school closures will only affect parents on two days – tomorrow and Friday, as Monday, May 26, is a public holiday in Georgia in recognition of the country’s Independence Day.