Medical officer reassures parents over meningitis concerns

Two cases this year at Glenmerry Elementary

Interior Health’s (IH) medical officer is reassuring parents of Glenmerry School students that, despite two cases of meningitis in the last couple of months, there is no imminent danger of an outbreak.

On Friday, parents and students at the school received word there was a student diagnosed with meningitis.

There have been two reported cases of the infectious disease in students from the Trail school in the last couple of months, the most recent just last week.

Dr. Rob Parker, an IH medical health officer, says there is no looming concern of an outbreak to the rest of the school population.

“Because the two cases were in the same school, we figured the parents might be worried that there is a danger or increased risk and so we just wanted to reassure them that we aren’t aware of a connection and of the things they can do right now,” he said, adding that if there was danger to students and staff, IH would take action.

“Schools aren’t any more at risk of meningitis than any other setting in the community, like a workplace.

“If it looks like there is some transmission going on in the school setting, then we will go in and provide antibiotics to the classroom or the whole school, plus immunizations, but that is exceedingly rare.

“We will take public health action when there is an increased risk to the general public.”

Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain and can be caused by a number of things including bacteria, a virus or in rare cases, a fungal infection.

Symptoms include a high fever, headaches, vomiting, light sensitivity and severe neck pain. In older patients, meningitis can be seen as irritability, confusion or drowsiness.

The first case at the school was reported in January and after testing was classified as a bacterial infection. Doctors are still waiting for test results to see what type of meningitis was reported last week, however Dr. Parker says there are still ways to lower the chance of catching it.

“It can be spread in a few different ways depending on which bug it is, like coughing or sneezing or hand-to-hand contact,” he said, adding that slowing the spread of the disease is simple.

“The best way to prevent it, other than having all of your childhood immunizations up-to-date, is just good hand-washing. It is pretty easy. We tend to get our meningitis in the winter months just because of all the respiratory virus germs that are circulating and sometimes that increases your chances of getting a bacterial meningitis.”

Currently, a meningitis vaccine is considered a standard booster shot for young children, but Dr. Parker says there are still parents who don’t go that route.

“There are a few immunizations that protect against meningitis, like pneumococcal meningitis, that has been available to all kids for about a decade now, and the meningococcal vaccine that prevents that kind of meningitis,” he said.

“Vaccine rates in children have been a concern in the Kootenay Boundary for a number of years. It tends to be a lower rate here, but still, the majority of parents do get their kids vaccinated and immunized, but we have seen outbreaks of things like pertussis (whooping cough).”

Anyone with questions about meningitis, vaccinations or infections in schools can call the Provincial Nurse Line at 811 or the Trail Health Unit at 250-364-6219.