HALIFAX – Health officials in Nova Scotia should know soon if they’re dealing with an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis at Acadia University in Wolfville.
Hope Maryka, a first-year student and rugby player at the school, is currently in hospital after being diagnosed with the disease Tuesday. She is the second student at Acadia to contract meningitis in two weeks.
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“It’s a serious disease,” said university president Ray Ivany. “I absolutely think we all should be concerned, and I think we should take the advice public health is providing around hyper-vigilance.”
Sarah Hastings was found unconscious in her dorm room on Jan. 31 and died in hospital two days later from the B strain of meningitis. If test results, which are expected to arrive Friday, show Maryka has the same strain, it would be considered an outbreak at the university.
“If the second case is a B, it would be unlikely for two [cases] to have occurred by chance alone,” said Joanne Langley of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax. “It would suggest there’s more type-B meningococcus in that community.”
Rylee Sears, a 16-year-old Lower Sackville high school student, died from the Y strain of bacterial meningitis in January.
A student from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish was also infected with the Y strain earlier this year, although that case was never made public by the Nova Scotia Department of Health. The male student was living on campus and was treated at a local hospital. He moved back to Ontario where is is recovering with his family.
If test results show Maryka has the Y strain of meningitis and not the B strain, health officials say the handling of the disease will be different.
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“If we have three Y’s in Nova Scotia, we will want to know more about the type of Y, so there are other analyses that can occur to see, for example…if they are related in their genetic material,” Langley said.
Vaccines are available primarily for the C strain of meningitis, while vaccines for the B and Y strains are not as readily available. Pharmacies across the province have been getting a number of calls from concerned parents, looking to vaccinate their children.
“It is the direct contacts that we’re mostly concerned about, and those people are being contacted,” said Brian Dillman, pharmacist with The Medicine Shoppe in Dartmouth. “For the rest of the population, the risk, as far as we know right now, is relatively low.”