Skip to main content

Halifax university student dies from suspected case of meningococcal meningitis: Public Health


Health officials in Nova Scotia are investigating a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis after the death of a Halifax university student.

In a news release, Nova Scotia Health says the case is in the province’s Western Zone, though the student attended Saint Mary’s University. The student died in hospital over the weekend.

No details about the student have been released.

The health authority says it has already identified and been in contact with those who may have been directly exposed to the person.

“At this time there is no indication of increased risk to the general public or the Saint Mary’s University community,” said Dr. Jesse Kancir, the regional medical officer of health, in the news release.

“Bacterial meningitis is not spread through casual contact, such as sitting next to or talking with someone who is sick with the disease.”

Public Health says the bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease are spread by direct secretions from the nose and mouth through activities such as kissing, and sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils, cigarettes and other smoking products and devices.

“Public Health’s focus has been on identifying and contacting those who have been directly exposed so they can receive prophylactic antibiotics to prevent further spread of the disease," Kancir said.

Kancir says no other cases have been identified at this time.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease expert in Nova Scotia, told CTV News Wednesday that the disease doesn't spread like other respiratory viruses.

"It does take more prolonged contact and close contact for most bad strains of bacteria that cause meningitis to spread, and in particular, what we call meningococcus," said Barrett.

"And I think it's important to recognize that there are vaccines out there that are meant to prevent certain types of meningitis and if you're eligible for those, to go out and make sure that everyone is in a well-vaccinated situation. It's not just respiratory viruses, there are other diseases that we can prevent with vaccines."

In a letter to students and staff, SMU said Public Health's investigation does not involve any of the university's residences.

The university has not released any details about the student.

“While we are not in a position to provide any further identifying information, it is important that we share this news with you as Nova Scotia Public Health has let us know that they are treating this death as an investigation of a suspected case of meningococcal meningitis,” said Tom Brophy, the associate vice-president of Student Affairs and Services, in the letter.

"I want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of this student and the entirety of the Saint Mary’s University community impacted by this tragedy.”

The school also provided a list of counselling and mental health supports available to students.

Currently, there is no vaccine that protects against all causes of meningococcal meningitis. Nova Scotia’s publicly funded vaccine program currently provides monovalent meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months of age and, as part of the Grade 7 school immunization program with the quadrivalent meningococcal A, C, Y, W135 vaccine.

Health officials add that the meningococcal B vaccine is not part of the publicly funded vaccine program in Nova Scotia, but is available to those who are identified as having close contact with a meningococcal case, or are at higher risk of meningococcal disease.

Symptoms of the disease may include fever, headache, stiff neck, rash, sensitivity to light and changes in level of alertness.

Public health recommends seeking medical attention immediately if you become ill with any of these symptoms.

More information about the disease is available online. Top Stories

Stay Connected