Nova Scotia

St. FX student contracted two deadly strains of meningitis

The meningitis situation at St. Francis Xavier University is more serious than thought. CBC News has learned the first-year male student who was sick with meningitis in early January was also sick in November.

Student 'outraged' that university waited weeks before alerting students

Dr. Robert Strang is Nova Scotia's chief public health officer. (CBC)

The meningitis situation at St. Francis Xavier University is more serious than first thought. CBC News has learned the first-year male student who was sick with meningitis in early January was also sick in November.

He lived on campus and four students close to him had to be vaccinated. The man had two strains, strains that killed two young people in recent weeks. He contracted the B strain in November and the Y strain in January. He was hospitalized both times.

The sick student lived in residence. He’s now sitting out the semester with his family in Ontario.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, says the province has had four cases of meningitis this year. He says all cases struck people aged between 15 and 19. Strang said the St. FX student has recovered and is being investigated for a possible underlying health issue.

Strang said it’s “very unusual” to become sick twice from meningitis.

The university emailed students Thursday to say a student had become sick with meningitis. The note came about five weeks after he was sent to hospital.

Vaccination considered for people aged 15 to 19

The B variety killed Acadia student Sarah Hastings earlier this month. Her classmate Hope Maryka is recovering from the disease and testing is being done to find out which strain infected her.

The Y strain killed 16-year-old Rylee Sears of Lower Sackville in late January.

Strang says if Maryka has the Y strain of meningitis, that would mean three such cases in three communities. Strang said he’s potentially looking at vaccinating the 15- to 19-year-old age group.

Emily MacGregor is a student at St. FX. She plans to check if her vaccinations need to be updated. She’s also not sharing drinking glasses or lip balm.

"It's disbelief and outrage because this is something that affects me so personally. I want to know about it when it's a threat, not six weeks after it happened," said the fourth-year student.

"I think that knowing now that there was a student at St. FX walking around that could have infected me with something that could potentially kill me and has killed other [people] is so concerning. It's life-threatening."

Low risk to students

Strang said St. FX students weren't given an earlier heads up about the student because the risk to students was low.

"We came to the conclusion that there would be more unnecessary panic and concern by broad communication," he said. 

Two large universities in the U.S. have had recent outbreaks of the B strain of meningitis and have not implemented travel restrictions, said Strang. He said Nova Scotia is following that lead.

Strang said if the health department determines vaccinations are the way to go, they would start vaccinating next week, reading week, and continue when the majority of students return to school.

'No risk' to waiting

"If it's another strain, then we have to look at this from a provincial perspective and I've already lined up some national experts to help advise us where we go next in that scenario," said Strang.

"The vaccination provides longer term immunity. There's no risk to students waiting to get immunized once they come back from reading week."

Strang encourages people not to buy the vaccine themselves because he said there are limited supplies across the country and getting the supply they need could be made more difficult.

"There's no increased risk for waiting," he said. "Our preference would be that students wait and get immunized when they're back on campus after reading week."

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