Meningitis case serves as reminder

Brittany Arthur, an Otago Polytechnic nursing student in her final year, died last Saturday after an acute case of meningococcal meningitis. 

Arthur had been out for dinner, celebrating her final nursing exam. She awoke the next day with a headache and decided to go back to bed. However, she collapsed later that night and never regained consciousness after being taken to the intensive care unit.

Meningococcal disease is rare, and more commonly seen during the winter months. 14 cases had been recorded this year by the SDHB, compared with an average of seven between the years of 2007 and 2015. However, Dr Marion Poore, Medical Officer of Health for Southland and Otago, released a statement shortly after explaining that Public Health South did not “consider that there is an increased risk to staff and students.” 

Public Health South also identified a number of close contacts to Arthur and offered them an antibiotic to reduce the risk of developing meningococcal disease. However, Dr Poore also added that meningococcal disease was not easily transmitted from person to person. “Meningococcal disease is transmitted only by close personal contact that allows the bacteria to pass from the nose and throat of one person to another,” the statement added. Those in close contact are those who have been:

  • Exposed to oral secretions through intimate kissing 
  • Living in the same household and sleeping in the same room (eight hours or more) 
  • Sharing air-space in confined quarters for substantial periods, such as long car rides

Dr Bret Dougherty of Student Health, explained that the most important thing was to keep an eye on each other when sick. “Sometimes when you’re sick and you don't feel like talking to anyone, it's important to have someone else there checking up on you.” Dr Dougherty also encouraged those watching on patients to “go on your concerns and act on your instincts.” “Signs of worry can be put down to the general misery of the patient, if they look to be getting worse,” he added. 

People who have been vaccinated against specific strains of meningococcal disease receive protection against that strain only, so it's important to be on alert for symptoms of the disease.

Some of the signs and symptoms can include:

  • Looking ‘very unwell’ and getting worse
  • Fever
  • A skin rash (reddish purple blotchy spots or bruising from bleeding into the skin)
  • Headache, nausea and neck stiffness, irritation by bright light (not all symptoms may be present!) 
This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2016.
Posted 10:13am Sunday 21st August 2016 by Hugh Baird.