B.C. meningitis death highlights vaccine gaps

A Surrey, B.C. teen who died from a suspected case of bacterial meningitis likely had a strain for which there is no current vaccine, say health officials.
A Surrey, B.C. teen likely had a strain of meningitis for which there is no current vaccine, reports the CBC's Leah Hendry 3:06

A Surrey, B.C. teen who died from a suspected case of bacterial meningitis likely had a strain for which there is no current vaccine, say health officials.

Staff and students at Clayton Heights Secondary School were told that Brandon Kurtz, 15, died suddenly last weekend.

"It was a horrible feeling. Everyone was sad. Teachers were crying. We were all just silent for the day," said Grade 11 student Triston Sayers.

Health officials say anyone who came into casual contact with Kurtz is not in danger.

"We've given antibiotics to all of the family. We've given antibiotics to those children who shared saliva through drink bottles or something similar. And importantly, we've sent a message to school, and to the parents and to the others that they are not at risk," said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health's chief medical officer.

There are five strains of meningococcal bacteria. Children in B.C. are vaccinated against strain C.

Kurtz likely died of meningococcal B, the most common strain contracted by three-quarters of meningitis cases, said Dr. Eric Young, deputy provincial health officer.

A vaccine for the B strain is being developed and could be ready for approval in a year, he said.

Father lobbies for stronger vaccine

Colin Campbell's 15-year-old son, Brodie, died of bacterial meningitis in Coquitlam in 2007. The teen died from the rare Y strain.

"For several years I've been involved after the death of our son in lobbying quite aggressively the provincial government to adopt a vaccine that's called Menactra," he told CBC News on Friday.

Menactra, which is classified as a meningococcal quadrivalent vaccines, protects against four strains of meningitis —A, C, Y and W-135. In B.C., it's available for free to those who are high-risk to get meningitis such as patients with no spleen, or who have had a stem cell transplant.

Campbell says B.C. health officials have told Menactra is too costly to be made part of a routine immunization program.

Flu-like symptoms

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain, and can affect the lining of the brain or cause a blood infection. In rare cases, it can lead to brain damage or death.

It's most commonly spread by direct contact with the saliva of an infected person.

The symptoms are flu-like, including fever, a severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, confusion, vomiting and a sensitivity to bright lights. They also include a reddish-purple, tiny, bruise-like rash.

About 35 to 50 cases are reported in B.C. every year, with an average of three people a year dying of bacterial meningitis.