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'People get very sick': Manitoba sees rise in rare, potentially fatal bacterial infection

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A rise in cases of a rare bacterial infection in Manitoba has prompted health officials to issue a warning.

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a bacterial infection that can cause meningitis (severe brain and spinal cord inflammation) and is potentially fatal.

A Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) spokesperson confirmed Ontario and Manitoba have seen activity this year, with Toronto Public Health reporting the highest number of recorded infections in the city since 2002.

Manitoba’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Carol Kurbis says the province normally sees about six cases annually of all types of meningococcal disease.

Since around mid-December, Manitoba recorded 19 cases. Eighteen of those are the W-strain.

Kurbis says other jurisdictions have seen a similar rise, but they’re not sure what’s driving it.

“Sometimes we see an increase in these types of infections post-pandemic or around respiratory virus seasons that are high,” she said in an interview on CTV Morning Live Winnipeg on Monday.

IMD symptoms can vary, but they come on rapidly.

Some people show hallmarks of meningitis, with a stiff neck, a purplish rash and nausea or vomiting.

Others develop sepsis-type symptoms, with an infection in their bloodstream.

“People get very sick. High fevers, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and it progresses quite rapidly during the day,” Kurbis said.

“It’s not a mild presentation."

Kurbis says about one in ten people carries the meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throats, and most do not get sick from it.

“But every now and then, someone will develop a more invasive disease with presentations like that that can be quite serious.”

There are two types of meningococcal vaccines. One targets strain B, while the quadrivalent vaccine targets A, C, Y and W.

It is given routinely at 12 months and 10 years old as part of the province’s school immunization program.

“We follow the national recommendations and up until now, we were just immunizing the younger infants with C, but once we saw that the W strain was increasing here in the province, we changed that just earlier this year to make sure we’re covering all the infants for quadrivalent, as well.”

Kurbis also notes the province has a vaccine catch-up program. Details can be found on the province’s website.

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé and Alex Arsenych

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