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Ministry of Health on alert after serious case of bacterial meningitis identified in the capital city

Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2023. 3:35 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: A nine-year-old boy from Belmopan, attending United Evergreen Primary School, is in serious condition, reportedly on a respirator, at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) following a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis caused by exposure to the strain Streptococcus pneumoniae.

A second child attending St Ann’s Anglican School is hospitalized in stable condition at the Western Regional Hospital in Belmopan, having been admitted today after exhibiting similar signs and symptoms although a formal diagnosis has not yet been made in their case. The child is under the care of a pediatrician and tests are pending.

This afternoon, Director of Health and Wellness Dr Melissa Diaz Musa updated the press on what the Ministries of Health and Education are doing to stem the potential threat.

The boy got ill starting last Thursday, growing progressively worse until he was admitted. His symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, and irritability. (Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes of the brain, called meninges, which can leave long-lasting side effects.)

In conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the school’s management, the class in which the boy attended school was closed and cleaned on Tuesday but the school has not been closed and students continue to attend classes. The Ministry of Health team is on the ground reaching out to contacts, beginning with immediate family members and moving on to other contacts to check on their health and movement and prescribe prophylaxis treatments (that is, preventative treatments to guard against illness) including antibiotics in specific doses. Generally, that is not usually needed but it is being issued as a precaution.

Streptococcus pneumoniae, according to Dr Diaz Musa, is less contagious but also common to the human body and responsible for various upper respiratory illnesses, compared to the deadlier and less common Neisseria meningitides, but it is still bad news and those with the above symptoms as well as displaying sensitivity to light should attend their doctor for a formal diagnosis and treatment. This is projected to occur within three to five days, although it could be as much as a week to two weeks.

Answering how doctors could have missed the diagnosis, Dr Diaz Musa noted that we react differently in terms of immunity to disease and work is underway to identify the underlying factors that led to the boy’s condition. Both the index and suspected case attend the same daycare center and that is being looked at as a possible link.

In the case of the second child, their classroom is closed for fumigation but in response to reports that some parents are prematurely removing their children from school, Dr Diaz Musa said that was not especially necessary at this time.

This is the first confirmed case of meningitis in a child in Belize in a decade.


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