Meningitis threat averted

In light of recent meningitis cases, health officials are beginning a city-wide vaccination program.

Beginning Feb. 9, all Calgarians between the ages of 16-20 will be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. University of Calgary students will receive their vaccination Thursday, Feb. 15 and Friday, Feb. 16 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Students will need to bring proof of age and U of C student ID to the Olympic Volunteer Centre at MaMahon Stadium .

The vaccination program was prompted by a recent outbreak of five cases of bacterial meningitis in 16 to 20-year-olds. Calgary Regional Health Authority officials usually see only one to two cases a year.

"Given the experience in Edmonton where this first appeared in the [16 to 20-year-olds] and then spread to the others, we wanted… to immunize 16 to 20-year-olds so that they would be protected against the increased risk of disease…," said CRHA Medical Health Officer Dr. Brent Friesen. "We’re also hoping that as a result of going forward with the vaccination program with 16 to 20 year olds will reduce some of the disease in the other age groups."

Meningitis can be spread through bodily secretions such as saliva or mucus. People are advised to not share eating utensils, drinks, cigarettes or lip gloss.

"We know this age group is more likely to be at risk because of some of the behaviour that place them in direct contact with secretions that can spread the bacteria," said Friesen. "Some of these behaviours are common in terms of this age group."

In April, a province-wide program will immunize those aged from two to 24-years-old. The program will cost Alberta $12-$14 million to immunize 700,000 individuals against bacterial meningitis. The vaccine will protect individuals aged 16-20 for five years.

"We’ve got sufficient vaccine to carry out the targeted program for the 16 to 20-year-olds," said Friesen. "The province is still negotiating with the vaccine manufacturers for the amount of vaccine that would be required for the provincial program at the start of April."

According to Dr. Friesen, there are few side effects to the vaccination.

"In a small number of cases, there will be some swelling or redness at the site where the vaccination is given [and] that lasts for one to two days," said Dr. Friesen. "The most severe reaction that’s reported is anaphylaxis which is a severe allergic reaction. There was one case of anaphylaxis among the 270,000 people that were vaccinated in the Edmonton area.

Meningitis is the inflammation of tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, headache and stiff neck.
For more information call the Meningococcal Hotline at 508-1600 or www.crha-health.ab.ca

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