Meningitis outbreak declared at Dalhousie University residence after sudden death

Click to play video: 'Family calling for change after death from meningococcal disease at Dalhousie University'
Family calling for change after death from meningococcal disease at Dalhousie University
A Halifax family is continuing to call for change following the death of a Dalhousie student from meningococcal disease. Public Health says a second student is recovering in hospital. An outbreak has now been declared at one Dal residence due to the two cases. Skye Bryden-Blom reports – Dec 17, 2022

Nova Scotia Public Health say they are investigating two cases of meningitis at Dalhousie University after one student suddenly died.

In an email to students and faculty, signed by Regional Medical Officer of Health Dr. Cristin Muecke and Student Affairs Vice-Provost Rick Ezekiel, the Dalhousie community was told an outbreak was being declared for the Shirreff Hall residence in Halifax.

One student had suddenly died from meningococcal disease, the memo said.

“Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with their family and friends. That is all the information we are able to share about the student at this time to respect the family’s wishes and timelines for communication.”

In a release issued shortly after the memo was sent, Public Health said the second person who had meningococcal disease is recovering in hospital.

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

In the release, it said “two cases of meningococcal disease with the same serogroup in one location over a short period of time is considered an institutional outbreak.”

The memo said two cases of meningococcal disease, of the same strain called serogroup B, were detected at Shirreff Hall residence, though there is no known social activity between the two other than living in the same building. Public Health said it is investigating whether there are any links between the individuals.

“Only those contacted by Public Health are required to take further action,” the Dal memo read.

“We recognize the anxiety and uncertainty this sort of news creates for our community,” the university stated.  “This an extremely difficult time for our students living in Shirreff Hall, our community who supports our students, and the family and friends of the students impacted.”

Public Health will be holding vaccination clinics for the students and staff of Shirreff Hall this weekend.

The agency said the meningococcal B vaccine is not part of the routine publicly funded vaccine program in the province, but is available to those who are identified as having close contact with a case or are at higher risk of meningococcal disease.

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Click to play video: 'New Meningitis B Awareness Campaign Targets University Students'
New Meningitis B Awareness Campaign Targets University Students

Dr. Muecke assured there is no indication of increased risk to the general public, the Dal memo read, as this form of bacterial meningitis is not spread through the air or casual contact.

Meningitis is spread by saliva or spit from the nose and mouth, “through activities such as kissing, as well as sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils, cigarettes and other smoking products and devices,” Public Health said.

It advises the following:

  • Avoid sharing drinks or utensils
  • Avoid sharing vapes, smokes, water bottles, and other items
  • Avoid sharing bodily fluids
  • Monitor for symptoms outlined here

Read more: Halifax family calling for change after 19-year-old’s sudden death from meningitis

Last month, another Halifax university reported a student died of a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis.

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In a Nov. 9 release, Nova Scotia Health said a student, who attended Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, died in hospital that weekend. Public health has identified and contacted those who may have been exposed to them, the release said.

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.

— With files from Alex Cooke. 

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