LAUREL V WILLIAMS and JULIEN NEAVES
EMERGENCY doses of antibiotics were administered to students and staffers at the Fifth Company Baptist Primary School yesterday by a medical team, four days after a student of the school died after contracting meningitis.
Officials from the ministries of education and health activated certain protocols after an autopsy confirmed that five-year-old student Emily Veronique Browne died from complications associated with the meningitis virus. She died at San Fernando General Hospital.
Moruga/Tableland MP and minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis confirmed the health team’s visit to the school telling Newsday, “They were examining the students and teachers and giving them oral doses of antibiotics because there has been a preliminary diagnosis of meningitis. These tests could take about a week or two to get definitive answers.”
Expressing his concern about the potential of a full outbreak, Francis said: “We cannot wait for that, so we are doing what we have to do to make sure and contain the spread so that nobody else falls ill.” Francis visited the school yesterday morning. With the medical aspect of the state’s response over, the school will be closed for two days to allow for workers to thoroughly sterilise the building with help from external staff. “I have spoken with the principal, who said the school was sanitised on Friday and yesterday. We opted to close the school in the short term to allow for a thorough sanitisation of all surfaces. The safety of our students and educators comes first.”
Emily’s father Davey James, in an earlier interview with Newsday, said the autopsy confirmed meningitis as the cause of his daughter’s death and he believes she contracted the viral infection while at school. Emily came down with a headache last week Monday and her condition worsened.
Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Unconfirmed reports reaching Newsday yesterday indicated 14 meningitis cases in Moruga alone this year.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday reported that 29 people were treated following the deaths of two children from meningitis. He gave the figure in response to an urgent question in the Senate.
“On behalf of the honourable Prime Minister, the Cabinet and people of TT,” Deyalsingh said, “we want to express our deepest condolences to the family of two individuals, two young children, one aged four who was not in school yet, and one aged five, for the passing of these most precious lives. One can only imagine what their parents and families are going through.”
He said prevention of an epidemic is based on four pillars and in this case, all four have been followed. The four are: environmental management, including sanitation; public education for the school, PTA, surrounding schools and general public; chemoprophylaxis (use of drugs to prevent a disease) and; determining the most at-risk people who came into contact with the two children, to give them antibiotics to prevent their contracting meningitis.
“This country has a robust programme of vaccination. But there is no one vaccination to cover all 14 or 15 causes of meningitis,” Deyalsingh said.
He added that before children get into a school they are given two vaccinations – the HIB (flu) vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccine. “So that is how you prevent an epidemic.” Opposition Senator Wade Mark asked if steps had been taken to vaccinate or “interrogate” all students to see whether they had been affected. Deyalsingh replied that all principals are supposed to check the vaccination cards of all students.