N.S. public health reports student death from suspected meningococcal disease

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Anne Geddes turns lens on meningococcal disease
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Nova Scotia public health is investigating after a university student recently died of a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis in the province’s western health zone.

In a release, Nova Scotia Health said the student, who attended Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, died in hospital over the weekend. Public health has identified and contacted those who may have been exposed to them, the release said.

“At this time there is no indication of increased risk to the general public or the Saint Mary’s University community,” said Dr. Jesse Kancir, regional medical officer of health, in the release.

“Bacterial meningitis is not spread through casual contact, such as sitting next to or talking with someone who is sick with the disease.”

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In a letter to students Wednesday morning, Tom Brophy, SMU associate vice-president of student affairs and services, announced the student’s death with a “heavy heart.”

Brophy stressed “there is no indication of increased risk to the general public or the university community” and said public health’s investigation did not involve any of the student residences.

The letter also included a list of counselling and mental health supports available to students.

“I want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of this student and the entirety of the Saint Mary’s University community impacted by this tragedy,” he said.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningococcal disease refers to an illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.

Meningitis — infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord — is one of the most common types of meningococcal infections. Meningococcal infections can be “very serious and can be deadly in a matter of hours,” the CDC said.

In its release, Nova Scotia Health said the bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease are spread by direct secretions from the nose and mouth. This is done through activities like kissing, sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils, cigarettes and other smoking or vaping products.

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Kancir said Public Health has been focusing on identifying and contacting those who were exposed to they can receive prophylactic antibiotics, and no other cases have been identified at this time.

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The release noted that there is no vaccine that protects against all causes of meningococcal meningitis, though the province’s vaccine program provides immunization against the C strain of the disease at 12 months of age, and the A, C, Y, and W strains as part of the Grade 7 school immunization program.

“Currently, the meningococcal B vaccine is not part of the publicly funded vaccine program in Nova Scotia but is available to those who are identified as having close contact with a meningococcal case or are at higher risk of meningococcal disease.”

Symptoms of meningococcal disease includes fever, headache, stiff neck, rash, sensitivity to light, and changes in level of alertness. Anyone who becomes ill with these symptoms is asked to seek medical attention immediately, the release said.

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