Family renews calls for change after Dalhousie University meningitis 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

A Halifax family is continuing to call for change following the recent death of a Dalhousie University student from Meningococcal disease.

Public Health says a second student is recovering in the hospital. An outbreak was declared Friday at Shirreff Hall, a residence at Dalhousie, amid the cases and the sudden death.

Norrie Matthews has taken up the fight against meningitis B following the death of his 19-year-old son, Kai, last year.

He says the “BforKai” initiative was launched to bring awareness to the serious and life-threatening illness, along with ways to prevent it.

Kai had just finished his first year of Kinesiology at Acadia University when he passed away from the disease.

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“Kai was a healthy, vibrant 19-year-old in the prime of his life,” Matthews says.

“He had a whole future ahead of him. It would have been a bright future. To see somebody who is at the prime of their life, healthy and fit, to be taken away in 30 hours from a bacteria that is preventable is impossible to understand.”

He says Kai’s loved ones have been raising awareness to ensure Canadians know how to protect themselves from the disease.

“We wanted to try and make his death have some meaning and our hope was that this wouldn’t happen again and yet here we are sitting and talking about an outbreak at Dalhousie,” Matthews says.

Click to play video: 'Family of young man who died from meningitis searches for answers'
Family of young man who died from meningitis searches for answers

He says it’s important to continue to draw attention to meningitis B so that people ask questions and know who is at risk.

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Matthews says university students are at a higher risk because the illness is spread through activities like sharing food, utensils, and kissing.

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“BforKai is our platform to raise awareness and to let every parent know that their daughter or son is likely not protected against meningitis B,” Matthews says. “And once you know about it, you can make the decision to vaccinate if you want to.”

Vaccination clinics have been running on-site for staff and students at Sheriff Hall, where the outbreak has been declared.

In a statement, Dr. Catherine Brown, Regional Medical Officer of Health in the Central Zone with Nova Scotia Health, says the response to the clinic has been encouraging.

“According to Public Health guidelines, two cases of meningococcal disease with the same serogroup in one location over a short period of time is considered an institutional outbreak,” Brown says.

“In response, Public Health has been holding meningococcal B vaccination clinics for the students and staff of Shirreff Hall this weekend with the support of Dalhousie University. We have had a positive response to the clinics.”

She adds at this time there is no indication of increased risk to the general public or the university.

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Matthews says as it now stands, the meningococcal B vaccine is not part of the province’s routine publicly funded vaccine program.

He wants to see that change. He wrote a letter to Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston last year and says he’ll be calling on him again.

“Demonstrate that Nova Scotia can be the first province in Canada to offer a publicly funded vaccine clinic for healthy students to protect them,” Matthews says.

He says the vaccine can save lives, adding everyone should have equal access to it. If you want to get the vaccine, and it’s not covered through private insurance, you’ll have to pay about $300.

The BforKai organization helps to raise funds to cover the cost for students who want to receive it.

Public Health has also confirmed a third case of meningitis in a child in the Northern Zone. The case is not connected to the Dalhousie community.

Last month, another Halifax university, Saint Mary’s, reported a student had died of a suspected case of meningitis.

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— With files from Karla Renić.

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