Scary situation
Quick action by Tuktoyaktuk health centre staff saves man with meningitis

Darren Campbell
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 28/98) - Tuktoyaktuk has survived a meningitis scare.

On Sept. 20 a man, whose name has not been released, was medevaced out of the Beaufort Delta community to Inuvik Regional Hospital with a confirmed case of pneumococcal meningitis.

Dr. Andre Corriveau, chief medical officer for the Northwest Territories, said the patient is doing well now. He said that was because the medical staff at the health centre in Tuktoyaktuk recognized the symptoms early, treated him and sent him to Inuvik immediately for treatment.

Meanwhile, a Deh Cho man died this week in Alberta after contracting the same type of meningitis. Because the coroner in Alberta is still investigating, Coriveau's office had no other details on the death.

Wanda White, communicable disease consultant with the department of health and social services, said if the staff in Tuktoyaktuk hadn't acted so quickly the man would be dead today.

"It was the early recognition and treatment that saved his life," said White.

Meningitis is caused by inflammation of the membranes enclosing the brain and spinal cord.

Dr. Corriveau said the reason it is deadly is because it causes that inflammation or swelling and there is very little room in the brain for swelling. As a result, the swelling crushes some of the vital functions in the brain, causing death.

There are two types of meningitis -- bacterial and viral. Of the bacterial type there are three main subgroups. One is pneumococcal, the others are ahemophilus influenza type B, and meningococcal.

The meningococcal is highly contagious and can lead to huge outbreaks of the disease. But that isn't the case with the meningitis the men in Tuktoyaktuk and Deh Cho contracted.

Dr. Corriveau said pneumococcal is rarely contagious except among elderly people or people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer.

Although there have been only 22 cases of pneumococcal meningitis in the NWT in the past nine years, the consequences are often deadly.

"If it's not caught early people can die from it," said Corriveau.

Or they can have long-term complications such as strokes. Some of the symptoms of someone who has the disease include a severe headache that won't go away, stiffness in the neck, and strange behaviour from the infected person.

Nunakput MLA Vince Steen, who represents Tuktoyaktuk said while the case of meningitis may not be that infectious it's a concern to him with only two nurses at that health centre.

He said it is especially a concern because there has been an outbreak of contagious diseases like rashes and mouth blisters on school children.

"There is definitely concerns with the relationship of other contagious diseases in the community," said Steen. "There are only two nurses there instead of four and it puts an awful strain on them."