British Columbia

Meningitis kills kindergarten girl in Surrey, B.C.

Fraser Health says a young Surrey girl, who was a kindergarten student at Sullivan Elementary School, passed away on the weekend after contracting meningitis.

Public health officials say strain was not meningococcal, and they don't anticipate further cases

A young Surrey student is dead after contracting the bacteria 2:13

A five-year-old girl in Surrey, B.C., has died of bacterial meningitis, but a medical health officer says public health measures do not need to be taken to prevent an outbreak at her school.

The girl, a kindergarten student at Sullivan Elementary, died on the weekend after being transferred to B.C. Children's Hospital from Surrey Memorial.

In a letter sent home with Sullivan Elementary students on Monday, Fraser Health said the death of the girl is a tragic loss for the family, and everyone in the school community, but that there is no public health risk.

Dr. Helena Swinkels, a medical health officer with Fraser Health, said Tuesday that the health authority does not anticipate any further cases at the school.

"The kind of meningitis that it is is not the one that people usually think of, the one that is passed easily from person-to-person," she said. "This is a less common kind of meningitis."

"We do not expect any other cases to be associated with this particular incident, and we are not recommending any public health follow-up," Swinkels said.

Officials do not know whether the type of meningitis that killed the girl is vaccine-preventable, but do know it was not meningococcal meningitis.

'Why it was so severe for her, we don't know'

Dr. Michelle Murti, a medical health officer with Fraser Health, said Tuesday that the type of bacterial infection involved in the girl's death is not uncommon and that the vast majority of cases of the infection do not cause meningitis.

"It is a bacteria that is in the environment and it is passed from person to person. But why it was so severe for her, we don't know."

Murti said children who contract meningitis can become severely ill very quickly, as was the case for the kindergarten student.

"There were a couple of days of being unwell and as things turned worse it progressed quite rapidly," she said, adding that a sudden and severe headache with a fever, nausea and vomiting require urgent attention.

"Some of these cases come on so rapidly that parents will say they put their kid down before bed, they were perfectly well and then they'll wake up in the morning and their child has already passed away, unfortunately."

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, and is is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

Fraser Health says signs and symptoms of meningitis include fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck and feeling unwell.

"These symptoms are usually worse than those for the ‘flu’ and may progress quickly. In young children, the most obvious symptoms may be a major change in behaviour, such as sleepiness, irritability, or excessive crying," the health authority said in its written statement to parents and guardians.

Fraser Health says bacterial meningitis has become rare in B.C. due to vaccines that have become part of routine childhood immunizations.

Murti did not know if the five-year-old girl had been vaccinated, though she said not all strains of the bacteria are covered by the vaccine.

With files from the CBC's Robert Zimmerman and The Canadian Press