No need for public panic
Growing concern addressed over recent meningitis outbreak in Edmonton

Scott Crabbe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 23/00) - A recent outbreak of meningitis in and around the city of Edmonton has Yellowknife citizens concerned.

"We've been getting a lot of calls from concerned parents of children going into Edmonton on school trips and hockey tournaments," said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the chief medical officer for the Department of Health and Social Services.

"What we want people to keep in mind is that this disease requires intimate contact before transmission can take place. Teenagers are considered a high risk," Corriveau said.

Transmissions of the disease can happen through the sharing of drinks and cigarette butts as well as kissing.

Originally a vaccination program for teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 was initiated surrounding Edmonton city limits. The program has now extended to children between the ages of two to 14 due to the number of recent outbreaks. (This specific age category is not at an unusually high risk however).

"Normally, this type of meningitis (neisseria meningitides) affects one case in 100,000," Corriveau said.

"It begins to spread when you get clusters in major centres (as is the case in Edmonton and some surrounding suburbs)."

Carriers of the disease may not even know it as it may present itself in the form of a throat infection. Once a person begins to get infected, common symptoms may include headaches, confusion and possible rash development. From there it can progress within 24 to 48 hours, rapidly affecting the brain.

"Once the symptoms are recognized a person will receive antibiotics," Corriveau said.

"They will then be put into a room and be attended to by (doctors) and nurses in masks. Nurses will also identify all contacts the person has had within the last couple of days."

So far 34 cases of this more common type of meningitis have developed in and around Edmonton. The vaccination program implemented there will oversee the effective immunization of up to 270,000 children.

"There will be a period of up to 10 days between the incoming vaccination and the person's immunity system," Corriveau said.

That's the time it will take for the immunity system to accept the vaccination and work with the antigens.

While there is no call for public panic, doctors are recommending those who think they may be carrying the disease to get it checked out immediately. Vaccinations are also available in Yellowknife for further immunization. Vaccination shots will cost about $40 to $50.