Interior Health is cautioning people — in particular teens and young adults — to avoid kissing and sharing beverages and cigarettes following several confirmed cases of a potentially deadly strain of meningitis.
There have been four confirmed cases of Neisseria meningitidis in the Okanagan over the past three months, medical health officer Karin Goodison says.
One of those cases is out of a Vernon high school, and the three others are related to an outbreak in the Oliver area stemming from South Okanagan Secondary School.
“We’ve had a variety of cases from mild to severe illness,” Goodison says, when asked how the four people are doing.
She says it’s unclear if the Vernon and Oliver cases are connected.
“We’re looking more closely at our data to see if there’s any further steps we need to be actioning,” Goodison says.
Interior Health responded in both communities by checking in with anyone who may have been in contact with the people who fell ill.
“We follow up with antibiotics that basically clear out and kill any bacteria,” Goodison says. "It's a lot of work, but it's important to do."
The health authority also offered vaccines to all staff and students at the affected schools. Because there are many types of meningitis strains, past immunizations may not be effective.
Since the initial outbreak in Oliver in October, Goodison says there have been no other reported cases in that area specifically.
Meningitis is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old and is transmitted through saliva or nasal discharge.
“The biggest way to prevent the spread of the disease is by not sharing glasses, utensils, cigarettes, and not kissing,” she says.
Meningitis can be deadly and fatality rates are as high as 10 to 15 per cent with this particular bacteria.
Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that occurs rarely in Canada, according to Interior Health. It can affect the meninges (lining around the brain) and/or blood. Symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, rash, drowsiness or confusion and seizures. Vaccination against meningococcal disease remains the most effective way to avoid the spread of the disease.
If you think you might have meningitis, go to a doctor immediately.
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