Father who lost his son to meningitis B urges parents to get their kids vaccinated before school – National |

More than two years after his 19-year-old son died suddenly from meningitis B, Norrie Matthews is urging parents to get their children vaccinated against the disease before the start of the school year.

Meningitis B, the most common and deadly form of meningitis, is rare but can cause serious and life-threatening complications if infected.

This is what happened to Kai Matthews the year he was studying kinesiology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

“We lost our son Kai Matthews to meningitis B in June 2021,” Matthews told Global News. “And after losing Kai, we were completely blown away by the fact that we thought we vaccinated him when he was in 7th grade for meningitis.”

While anyone can get meningitis, younger people and students are often more vulnerable due to their communal living conditions, e.g. B. living on campus and sharing personal items such as utensils, drinks and cigarettes.

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According to the World Health Organization, the bacteria that cause meningitis are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions.

“Close and prolonged contact – such as kissing, sneezing or coughing a person or living with an infected person – favors the spread of the disease,” it says.

Kai Matthews (far right) studied kinesiology at Acadia University before contracting meningitis B in May 2021.

Norrie Matthews

Kai received the Quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine (covering groups A, C, Y and W) for meningitis. However, this routine shot doesn’t protect against meningitis B. Protecting against this strain requires another vaccine, which costs money and requires a doctor’s visit, Matthews said.

After Kai’s death, his family decided to start a non-profit organization called ” to educate people about meningitis B and increase vaccination rates. The organization is also working with provincial governments and is advocating a change in immunization guidelines to include meningitis B as a standard part of routine immunizations for school children.

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The group was successful.

in April 2023, Nova Scotia And Prince Edward Island announced they would offer meningitis B vaccination to eligible post-secondary students living in dormitories.

No other province offers this for undergraduates, but Matthews hopes that will change soon.

Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the lining of the brain, explained Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital in Montreal. This inflammation is typically caused by an infection, most commonly viral or bacterial.

There are also different letters for different types of meningococci: A, B, C, Y, and W.

Approximately 100 to 400 cases of meningitis are reported in Canada each year Meningitis Foundation Canadathe disease resulted in death in 10 percent of all those affected.

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Infants and young adults are particularly vulnerable to meningitis because of their underdeveloped immune systems and close contact in day care centers or schools, Quach-Thanh said.

“Some people get it in their throats and never get sick,” she said, adding that that person is usually referred to as a healthy carrier.

“Other people will infect it through droplet infection and become ill. So if you were exchanging saliva, whether it was in daycare, in a bar, or at school, you could then give it to someone who didn’t have protection, and then that person would get sick very quickly.”

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Family of young man who died of meningitis seek answers

Since 1993, most cases of infection in Canada have been attributed to the B and C strains. according to Health Canada. However, in recent years, due to the introduction of meningococcal C conjugate vaccine into routine vaccination programs, the incidence of group C has decreased significantly.

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However, the meningitis B vaccine is not part of routine immunization programs, leading to continuous outbreaks, with university campuses being the most common locations.

“When you leave home and go to college or a dorm, your behavior tends to change,” Quach-Thanh said. “You can now go to bars and swap cigarettes, drinks and paraphernalia there. There you will meet your boyfriend or girlfriend. And that’s normal life, but that’s also the best way to transmit this virus.”

The bacteria are transmitted through droplet transmission, which can occur when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or has close contact with others, causing tiny respiratory droplets containing the bacteria to become airborne and potentially inhaled by people nearby.

Quach-Thanh warned that once a person becomes infected with the bacterium, it develops very rapidly and can cause amputation or death in otherwise healthy children or young adults.

Meningitis B is also most common in autumn and winter.

“The reason for this is that if it gets well established in your throat and then you get a respiratory virus of any kind that makes you have a sore throat, you cough or you have a runny nose, it’s easier for the bacteria to “penetrate your system and then just enter your bloodstream,” she explained.

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Demands a provincially funded meningitis B vaccine in NS

dr Ronald Gold, senior medical adviser to the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada, said meningitis B symptoms could resemble those of the flu or even COVID-19.

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These include fever, headache, neck pain, body aches, sensitivity to light, and vomiting.

However, what is unique about meningitis is that a person can develop a rash regardless of exposure.

“So if you see someone who has a fever and pain and also sees little red spots, that’s really an indication that they may have this bacterium, but it doesn’t happen to everyone,” Gold said.

“Once it gets into the blood, it can spread and multiply rapidly and basically overwhelm you. So with this bacterium you can go from perfectly healthy to death in less than a day.”

“He lost his life within 30 hours”

In recent years there have been several outbreaks of meningitis B at universities in Canada.

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In December 2022, an outbreak of meningitis B was reported at Dalhousie University after one student ended up in hospital and another died from the infection.

And in June 2021, Kai died less than two days after contracting the bacteria.

“He lost his life within 30 hours after catching the first signs of a fever, which is unimaginable for a parent … to which a healthy, vigorous 19-year-old, who is a paragon of health, can succumb to something within.” 30 hours,” said Matthews.

On May 30, 2021, Kai developed a fever, chills, and a headache. When his fever reached 103.5C, his parents called Nova Scotia Primary Care. His temperature rose again within an hour and the family were advised to take Kai to the Halifax emergency room.

The doctor performed a COVID-19 PCR test on Kai and ran a blood test. Matthews said his son was then released and the family were told to check on his COVID-19 results again in the morning. He received no other medication.

Matthews (centre) said he had no idea how Kai (left) contracted the infection and was only diagnosed with the infection when his condition worsened.

Norrie Matthews

After leaving the hospital, Kai was still in tremendous pain and his symptoms were getting worse, Matthews said. His parents called 911 and paramedics examined him and told them to wait for the results of the COVID-19 test.

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But when Kai’s symptoms worsened, his parents took him to the emergency room again. Kai was discharged again, but while he was still in the hospital parking lot, Matthews noted that he noticed purple rashes that spread across his entire chest.

Matthews said he then rushed back to the emergency room and asked the nurse to take a look at his son. After examining his rash, Kai was sent back to the emergency room.

The doctor who examined Kai said he had a very serious infection and the purple rash he developed indicated meningitis B infection.

Kai was then given a round of antibiotics to fight the infection, but it was too late: he died a few hours later and was pronounced brain dead.

Matthews said he wished he had known about the meningitis B vaccine before Kai made his way to campus.

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“We truly believe that if we had known, Kai would have been here with us today,” he added.

Infants are vaccinated against meningococcal C and most of Canada is vaccinated in 9th grade with a meningococcal A, C, W and Y booster shot.

The meningitis B vaccine was approved by Health Canada in December 2013. A second group B vaccine was approved for use in Canada in 2018.

According to the Meningitis Foundation Canada, the B vaccines (a series of vaccinations) have been shown to be effective at inducing antibodies that kill at least 80 percent of group B strains. The number of doses required varies by vaccine.

It is not included in Canada’s standard immunization program except in Nova Scotia and PEI. The cost varies by province; For example, it is US$130 per dose in British Columbia and US$125 per dose in Ontario.

“When the vaccine was approved by Health Canada, there was a review of epidemiological developments,” Quach-Thanh explained.

“In Canada, based on a cost-effectiveness analysis, it was said that it was not a vaccine that the government would pay for at the time because the incidence was very low.”

Global News reached out to Health Canada and asked why the meningitis B vaccine wasn’t free for all Canadians, and a spokesman said it was “something that falls under the jurisdiction of provincial and territorial authorities.”

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Vaccination clinic established at Dalhousie University after death from meningitis

Quach-Thanh pointed out that beyond the financial aspect, the existence of the meningitis B vaccine may go unnoticed by many parents.

“It’s true, the parents probably don’t know that this vaccine exists. And that goes for some people. For example, you might decide to vaccinate your children before they go to university,” she said. “And it’s a vaccine that’s relatively well tolerated but only causes fever and arm pain. But then it is a good protection against invasive meningococcal B disease.”

Matthews believes there is a lack of public education about the meningitis B vaccine and hopes the message about its effectiveness will get to parents before the start of the school season. The vaccine is recommended for everyone between the ages of two months and 25 years.

“It wasn’t on my radar. When I (Kai) was preparing for university, nobody warned us about this extra vaccine that we need,” Matthews said.

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“I want to change that. I want to make sure people know about this, speak to their doctor or pharmacist and can administer it now.”

– with files from Global News’ Amber Fryday and Aya Al-Hakim

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