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How to protect yourself against the life-threatening bacterial disease on the rise in Toronto | CBC News

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Toronto Public Health is reporting 13 cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) so far this year — higher than the total number of cases seen annually since 2002. Two people have died as a result.

In a news release on Friday, the city described IMD, better known as meningitis, as a bacterial infection that can quickly become serious — and potentially life-threatening. 

A rise in cases has been reported in other countries, including the United States, the public health agency said, as well as closer to home in Manitoba and Kingston, Ont.

While anyone can catch the disease, Toronto Public Health said it’s most prevalent in children younger than five years old, as well as in teenagers and young adults who have not been vaccinated against IMD.

Children typically receive the vaccine at age 12 months and in Grade 7, the health agency said, though children are eligible to receive the vaccine for free at other times through a Toronto Public Health vaccination clinic.

People between the ages of 18 and 36 who did not receive a meningococcal vaccine as a child can also receive the vaccine for free through public health, the agency said.

What is IMD?

Invasive meningococcal disease stems from the Neisseria meningitides bacteria, Toronto Public Health said, and infection typically spreads through saliva and spit and via “close or prolonged contact.”

An infection can spread to “the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream,” the health agency said, but it can be treated through antibiotics.

Toronto Public Health is specifically advising people who intend to travel or gather in large groups — from the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to Pride events locally and internationally — to get vaccinated.

“Cases are occurring among both those who have and have not travelled outside of Canada,” it said in the news release.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the Toronto General Hospital, told CBC Toronto that while the rise in cases is worrying, it’s important to put the increase into context.

“We live in a city of millions of people and they’re talking about 13 cases,” Bogoch said.

“There’s still more cases that we’ve seen in the past and it’s important to recognize it, and it’s important that people recognize there are steps they can take to reduce the risk of getting this rare, but very devastating infection.”

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Symptoms to watch for

Toronto Public Health said the first symptoms of IMD include:

  • Fevers.
  • Aches.
  • Joint pain.
  • Headache.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms is advised to seek medical attention immediately. More information is available on the City of Toronto’s website.

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