Nova Scotia reports student death linked to suspected case of meningitis

HALIFAX — Public health officials in Nova Scotia are investigating a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis after the death of a university student in hospital on the weekend.

Officials have released few details of the case but say the person attended Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

Public health says it has identified and contacted people who may have been directly exposed to the victim and no other cases have been identified.

In a news release, Dr. Jesse Kancir, regional medical officer of health, says there is currently no indication of increased risk to the general public or to the Saint Mary’s University community.

Kancir says bacterial meningitis is not spread through casual contact, such as sitting next to or talking with someone who is sick with the disease.

Symptoms may include fever, headache, stiff neck, rash, sensitivity to light and changes in level of alertness.

“Public health’s focus has been on identifying and contacting those who have been directly exposed so they can receive prophylactic antibiotics to prevent further spread of the disease,” Kancir said.

In a statement, Tom Brophy, associate vice-president of student affairs at Saint Mary’s, said public health’s investigation does not involve any of the residences at the university.

“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,” said Brophy.

He said no other details on this case would be released, adding that counselling and mental health support will be offered to students.

Although the disease is considered rare in Canada, Toronto’s public health unit reported the death of a person in August after three cases were identified in people aged between 20 and 30 who began experiencing symptoms between July 15 and 17.

Officials said in that instance, all three people were born outside Canada in countries that don’t provide childhood immunization against the disease.

Nova Scotia’s publicly funded vaccine program currently provides meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months of age and as part of the Grade 7 school immunization program. The meningococcal B vaccine is not part of the province’s program but is available to those who are identified as having close contact with a meningococcal case or are at higher risk of meningococcal disease.

The bacteria that can cause the disease are spread by direct secretions from the nose and mouth through activities such as kissing, and sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, utensils, cigarettes and other smoking products.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.

The Canadian Press