A University of Victoria student died last week after contracting meningicoccal disease, a bloodstream-based bacterial infection.
The rare disease is contagious, but the Vancouver Island Health Authority and UVic health services staff determined few people were ever at-risk of contraction. The student lived in on-campus housing.
“If a person is exposed to the nose or throat secretions of someone who is carrying that germ they may be exposed themselves,” said Dr. Murray Fyfe, medical health officer for VIHA. “It’s (contracted) through very close contact – that would be like kissing, or sharing food or drinks or cigarettes. And when we have a case like this, the people who are in the same household or sharing sleeping arrangements may also be at a higher risk.”
Since the young man’s death on Jan. 18, health authorities identified 19 people – including 17 in Greater Victoria – as as being at-risk of exposure. All have been given a preventive vaccine and antibiotic.
“Any individual that was considered to be in his closest contact group was contacted immediately, and has received the treatment,” said UVic spokesperson Patty Pitts.
However, simply sharing a classroom with the infected student does not merit cause for alarm. “(Classmates) don’t have to worry about it,” Fyfe said.
The student was admitted to Royal Jubilee Hospital on Jan. 14 and died in hospital four days later.
The symptoms of meningicoccal disease include weakness, fatigue and fever, and Fyfye said they progress “very rapidly.”
The disease can cause meningitis, the swelling of lining in the brain, but that was not the case in this incident.
In 2011, there were two deaths in the province related to meningicoccal disease among the 12 cases reported. In 2010, there was one death in B.C., and 11 reported cases of the disease.
“It’s a very rare infection. When we have a case like this, we don’t usually see an increase of (meningicoccal disease diagnoses) in the community,” Fyfe said. “The vast majority of people are not affected by (the disease). Up to 10 per cent of the population has one strain or another in their throat that they carry, and it doesn’t cause illness in most people.”
The medical health officer recommended not sharing food, drinks or cigarettes to avoid the spread of meningicoccal germs. Certain strains of the disease also have vaccines.
There have been UVic students in the past who have contracted meningicoccal disease, but no one had died until last week’s case, Pitts said.
UVic is offering counselling services and support to those affected by the student’s death.
For more information on meningicoccal disease, visit viha.ca/mho/disease/meningococcal_disease.htm.