By Lyonel Doherty
Interior Health professionals continue to monitor high school students in Oliver after two of them recently contracted meningococcal disease.
Although Medical Health Officer Dr. Rakel Kling said the disease is serious, the risk to people who attend Southern Okanagan Secondary School is very low.
“We’re just acting cautiously,” she told the Chronicle in an interview today.
Yesterday Interior Health confirmed that two students contracted the disease, and a third was being investigated. Kling said it is possible that another student may have it as well.
The disease, a contagious infection spread by close contact, is caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Common symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include sudden fever, headache and stiff neck.
“It is quite rare; there are not a lot of cases in BC,” Kling said.
She noted you have to be close to an infected person to risk getting it. For example, you can get it from kissing, sharing utensils and water bottles. It is also spread through droplets (if somebody sneezes).
Kling said Interior Health encourages people to practice good hygiene by washing their hands frequently and coughing into their elbow.
The health officer noted that they normally become aware of these cases through communications with hospitals and/or laboratories.
Referring to the cases in Oliver, she said there is no reason for anyone to limit their visits to the high school.
“The students (in question) have been treated and are doing well.”
Kling said they advise people who have contracted the disease to not return to school until they have been treated and are no longer infected.
A vaccination clinic was set up today at the school for students and teachers. Another one for the general public is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday) at the Oliver Health Centre from 9 am to noon.
“Although the risk of getting the disease is low, we are advising anyone who may have been exposed to take the precautions of getting immunized,” Kling said.
This vaccine has been offered to Grade 9 students in Oliver for the past two years, so some pupils have been immunized, she pointed out.
“We’re monitoring the students closely.”
Superintendent of Schools Bev Young said the district is working closely with Interior Health regarding communication (through social media) with parents and staff.
Young said the school will be providing additional immunization clinics next week.
School principal Tracy Harrington could not be reached for comment.