HALIFAX — Health officials in Nova Scotia said Friday they are investigating after an “institutional outbreak” of meningococcal disease (meningitis) was confirmed inside a residence at Dalhousie University.
According to a news release from Nova Scotia Health, two students living in Shirreff Hall tested positive for the disease. One student died of disease complications, while the other is in the hospital recovering.
Officials said both students had the serogroup B strain, but they do not believe there are known connections between them other than living in the same building.
“At this time there is no indication of increased risk to the general public or the Dalhousie University community,” said Dr. Cristin Muecke, regional medical officer of health for the North zone.
“This form of bacterial meningitis is not spread through the air or casual contact, such as sitting next to or talking with someone who is sick with the disease.”
Meningococcal disease is caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria found in saliva. The disease can spread through kissing, and sharing food, drinks, water bottles, toothbrushes, utensils, cigarettes and other smoking products and devices.
Data from New Brunswick’s department of health indicates that symptoms generally appear one to 14 days after exposure and can include worsening fever, headache, stiff neck, rash, sensitivity to light and changes in alertness level.
New Brunswick typically sees two cases of meningococcal disease per year, with the two most recent cases being confirmed in 2021. CBC News reported in November that the province had not confirmed any cases of the disease in 2022.
Nova Scotia Health said they already identified and contacted those who may have been directly exposed to the two students and declared an “institutional outbreak” at Shirreff Hall.
According to Nova Scotia’s outbreak management plan, institutional outbreaks are declared when confirmed illnesses within a single location can be epidemiologically linked to each other over a short period of time.
“We recognize the anxiety and uncertainty this sort of news creates for our community,” reads a statement from Rick Ezekiel, the vice-provost of student affairs at Dalhousie University.
“This an extremely difficult time for our students living in Shirreff Hall, our community who supports our students, and the family and friends of the students impacted.”
Ezekiel said the university also extends health and wellness support for those grieving the loss of a friend or experiencing a concern for their health and well-being.
Government officials said while there is no vaccine that protects against all strains of meningococcal disease, Nova Scotia Health will host vaccination clinics for students and staff of Shirreff Hall this weekend.
The meningococcal B vaccine is not part of Nova Scotia’s routine vaccination program but is available to those who are identified as a close contact.
The news comes over one month after a student from Saint Mary’s University died from a suspected case of the disease.
We are investigating 2 cases of meningococcal disease. Both were students at Dal, living in at Shirreff Hall. One has passed away, while the other is in hospital. We are holding vaccination clinics for students & staff of Shirreff Hall this weekend. https://t.co/L0Xfa7klRc pic.twitter.com/041E0HQXIy
— Nova Scotia Health (@HealthNS) December 16, 2022