Acadia University not panicking following meningitis death

University placing trust in N.S. Public Health to inform students on preventative measures

Students at Acadia are not at increased risk of contracting meningitis. Photo: Wikimedia

The recent death of one of Acadia University’s first-year female students to meningitis shouldn’t be a cause for fear of the disease spreading among the student body, says Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer.

Instead, Dr. Robert Strang sees it as an opportunity to increase students’ awareness of the importance of proper hygiene to avoid all illnesses.

“In the university environment, since people are in close proximities, it’s about reminding people about not sharing drinks, food, cigarettes, or other smokable things like joints,” he said.

“Those protect against not only meningitis, but protect against flu, or things that cause gastrointestinal disease.”

The university announced Thursday that the student’s name was Sarah Hastings. Strang confirmed that the Hastings died from a bacterial disease Sunday after her roommate found her unresponsive. This comes less than a week after 16-year-old Rylee Sears from Lower Sackville died from the same illness.

He said there is no known connection between Sears’s Hastings’ deaths. He said due to the unlikelihood of contracting the disease, it would be rare to see an outbreak.

“Sometimes things happen in close proximity in time that are clustered,” he said, “and since (meningitis) is so uncommon, it doesn’t mean there are links between the two.”

Meningococcal disease, which is a serious form of bacterial meningitis that causes inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord and brain, is what Strang says caused the two recent deaths. A meningococcal conjugate vaccine is given during infancy to immunize against the disease. Nova Scotians are also given a booster shot in Grade 7, but Strang says a new vaccine will be introduced next fall to avoid other strains.

Acadia Students’ Union president Callie Lathem said when viruses such as these strike campus, they have confidence in Public Health’s ability to take the necessary steps to ensure students are properly informed and safe.

“This isn’t our realm of expertise and we don’t really have the capacity,” she said. “Public Health automatically addresses students’ concerns.”

Public Health is responsible for researching the close contacts of the infected, and for distributing necessary vaccinations. They also hold information sessions for students hoping to decrease their risk of contracting the disease.

Strang said he realizes students’ increased concerns, but hopes his department’s communication with the university and through mainstream and social media will help put students at ease.

“We try to use whatever mechanisms available to communicate to their student body and engage people,” she said.

Lathem said Acadia has opened its counseling services on a 24-hour basis for students who may have been Hastings. A memorial for Hastings will be held Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Public Health will continue interviewing and vaccinating those in close contact with Hastings in the coming days.