Interior Health communications administrator Deborah Preston, left, and medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison update media on declaring an outbreak of meningococcal disease in the Okanagan. One Coldstream secondary school student has been confirmed as having contracted the disease. (Carmen Weld/Black Press)

Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan

Five cases in last six months among 15-to-19 year-olds, including one in Coldstream

An outbreak of meningococcal disease in the Okanagan has hit a Coldstream girl hard.

Interior Health declared the outbreak Thursday after having seen an increasing number of cases of the disease in the 15-to-19-year-old age group in the last six months, including the very recent case of a Kalamalka Secondary School Grade 11 student, who remains in hospital in Vancouver in a medically induced coma.

In 2017 there have been 11 cases so far, including one teen who tested positive for the disease who died.

Interior Health is offering meningococcal disease immunization clinics throughout the Okanagan for individuals in Grades 9-12 and persons aged 15-19 who do not attend school.

“The risk to the general population is low,” said Dr. Karin Goodison, medical health officer, during a conference call Thursday. “However, with the increase in the number of cases and the fact that this disease can be prevented through immunization, we felt it important to raise the public’s awareness about this disease, and roll out a campaign to immunize those at the highest risk.

“Immunization is the best form of defence against this disease. We are encouraging all people in this age group who live in the Okanagan to get immunized.”

There have been five cases reported in the last six months: the one in Coldstream, one in the Central Okanagan and three in the South Okanagan.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that occurs rarely in Canada that is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or close face-to-face contact. It can also spread through saliva. This can occur through activities such as kissing or sharing of food, drinks, cigarettes, lipsticks, water bottles, mouth guards used for sports, or mouthpieces of musical instruments.

“The best way to prevent meningococcal disease is to not, what I call, ‘swap spit,’” said Goodison. “Don’t share glasses, don’t share cigarettes, don’t share your saliva with other people. What happens is the bacteria is transmitted from the nose and mouth of the one carrying the bacteria to other people’s nose and mouth when they have full contact.”

Immunizations started Thursday at a school in Vernon and clinics will continue to roll out at Okanagan schools next week to ensure immunization before winter holidays. Interior Health will also be offering immunization at public health centres for people who are not attending school or who have missed their school immunization clinic.

Please check interiorhealth.ca for more details.

The Meningococcal Quadrivalent vaccine has been part of the routine immunization schedule for B.C. students in Grade 9 since 2016. If you have received this vaccine as part of the Grade 9 immunization program in 2016/2017, you do not need to be re-immunized.

Parents and individuals with questions about their immunization records can call their local health centre.

In 2017, Interior Health has identified 11 cases of meningococcal disease — a majority of these cases were in the Okanagan. Goodison said one person in the 15-to-19 age group in the Okanagan tested positive for meningitis and died, but the cause of the person’s death was unclear.

Interior Health would not release details on the person who died, or give an update on the Kal Secondary student, due to privacy rules.

Typically, the health authority will see less than five cases per year.

For more information about the Meningococcal Quadrivalent vaccine, visit HealthLink BC.

To find an immunization clinic near you, visit interiorhealth.ca.



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