Nova Scotia

Meningitis cases at St. Francis Xavier University 'concerns' doctor

A medical doctor and a mother of a St. Francis Xavier student is questioning why the university community was not told that a student living on campus had two deadly strains of meningitis.

Family doctor and mom says she'll get extra vaccinations for her kids

Dr. Janice MacGregor questions how the outbreak is being handled. (CBC)

A medical doctor and a mother of a St. Francis Xavier student is questioning why the university community was not told that a student living on campus had two deadly strains of meningitis.

Dr. Janice MacGregor is a family doctor in Halifax and her daughter, Emily, is finishing her fourth year at the Antigonish university. 

CBC News revealed last week that a male, first-year student living in residence was hospitalized with the B strain of meningitis in November and the Y variety in early January.  

"I'm somewhat curious, a little concerned perhaps. Certainly in infectious disease we want to control spread. I think information is always good," said MacGregor.

"I would have liked to have had the information perhaps earlier. I don't know what the intention was to not tell the other students or the extended community of St. FX, why they didn't fully disclose."

There have been four cases of meningitis among teenagers in Nova Scotia so far this year. Two have died, including Acadia University student Sarah Hastings who contracted the B strain, and 16-year-old Rylee Sears of Lower Sackville who was infected with the Y variety.

Most recently, a second Acadia University student was hospitalized with the B strain of meningitis. Her case prompted officials to declare an institutional outbreak at Acadia.

A free, two-dose vaccination program for all students at the Wolfville university begins today.

Chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang has said he did not bring up the St. Francis Xavier University case earlier because, he said, the cases are not connected.

"They may have information and statistics that I don't, but I'd be interested in knowing the strain and the diseases that are potentially threatening to children," MacGregor said. 

Encourages preventative habits

While MacGregor doesn't want to assign blame to either the school or health officials, she says the onus is on public health to communicate information in a timely way.

"If you are informed that there is a communicable disease that you may have potentially have been exposed to, then you're more vigorous in your hand washing, you're more vigorous in avoiding sharing cups, and certainly investigating if there's any other precautions," she said.

"We all look when we're going south to what immunizations or medications we should have accompanying us or to have before we go, and I think in the same way it would be really nice if we could have had the information so we could have made a sound judgment or an informed decision as to whether we should immunize further."

The news about the meningitis case at St. FX is prompting MacGregor to take precautions. She says she'll be purchasing immunizations for both the Y and B strains for Emily and her children at home.

The province only provides the vaccine protecting against the C variety. The B strain is the most common but Strang says national guidelines indicate a broad vaccination campaign is not necessary.

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