A seven-year-old Lethbridge boy has died of meningitis, prompting a health official to warn parents to watch out for symptoms of the disease.

Mark Willcock died on Monday.

His mother, Kim Willcock, said at first doctors didn't know what her son Mark had when she took him to hospital complaining of a sore neck, headaches and a fever.

She says doctors became concerned and rushed him to a Calgary hospital.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Very bad headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Bright lights hurting the eyes
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Sometimes, a purple or red rash

For infants, symptoms may include:  

  • Seizures
  • Feeding poorly
  • High-pitched cry or moaning
  • Change in behaviour (sleepy, fussy, crying a lot)
  • Bulging or tight "soft spot" on top of the head

Source: Chinook Health Region

"They're quite certain it was bacterial meningitis. He had a high white blood cell count in his spinal fluid, and it was the type of white blood cells that indicated that it was most likely bacterial and not viral," she said.

Willcock said health officials have released public notices in the Lethbridge area warning parents about the symptoms of the disease and that it can be contagious.

Dr. Vanessa Maclean, the acting medical officer of health for the Chinook Health Region, said investigators weren't able to find the organism that caused the illness.

"This is an isolated case," she said. "We have done our homework, and at this point, other than making people aware, there really is no other follow-up."

Willcock said her family wants to build a piece of playground equipment at the Fleetwood-Bawden Elementary school in Lethbridge in her son's memory.

'These kids are sick'

Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal. It can be spread through close contact, such as coughing, sneezing or kissing. The symptoms include a sudden high fever, a stiff neck and a severe headache.

"When parents hear 'meningitis,' they get worried; they get anxious," she said. "So, one of the reasons we decided to go to the public and talk about this is because we wanted to talk about the signs and symptoms."

"Meningitis is a serious disease, and it has dramatic symptoms. It's not a little fever and a little headache; it's a big fever, a big headache. These kids are sick … If they, their children or members of their family have symptoms that are suggestive of meningitis or are worried about, they need to see a doctor."

Children in Canada are now vaccinated against bacterial meningitis as part of immunization programs, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada.

Maclean said parents should make sure their children's vaccinations are up-to-date.