Misgivings over meningitis scare
By Becky Somerville
As Western students return from holidays there is some concern the outbreak of meningitis in the Kitchener-Waterloo area may make its way onto campus but health officials are looking to dispel the scare.
London medical officials feel there is no real cause for concern and say the possibility of Western students contracting the disease and spreading it in London after visiting the Kitchener-Waterloo area is low.
Myrna Fisk, a public health nurse in communicable diseases at the London/Middlesex Public Health Unit, said contracting the disease this way is possible but the incubation period is short-lived and symptoms will likely appear between three to five days after being in contact with the disease.
"Only individuals directly exposed to an ill person are at significant risk," said Tom Macfarlane, director of Student Health Services at Western. Direct exposure includes living in the same house as someone with the disease, sharing drinks or cigarettes, or kissing an infected person, he explained. He added avoiding this type of contact is an ideal preventative measure.
Macfarlane said there must be two cases of the disease to warrant a mass immunization program. Area clinics are not equipped with vaccinations and those concerned they have been in contact with the disease must approach the Public Health Unit for a vaccination.
He said regardless of London's close approximation to the outbreak in Kitchener-Waterloo, area residents are not at an increased risk. Some students are concerned, however.
"What are they waiting for someone on our campus to get [meningitis]? Nobody knows where it is or how it is going to spread," said second-year psychology student Sarah Grambell.
Macfarlane said if a case of meningitis is diagnosed in the London area, the Health Unit is obligated by law to perform intense tracking in order to determine who has come into contact with the infected person and to take measures to inhibit the spread of the disease.
He added unless detected early and treated with antibiotics, this disease can kill its victim quickly.
Fisk said if someone suspects they have been in contact with an infected person or experiences symptoms such as a severe headache, fever, stiff neck, nausea, skin rash or an altered level of consciousness, they should see a health professional immediately.