A 63 year old Dominican Republic preacher has died as a result of meningococcal meningitis last week. He became infected in Haiti where he and members of his congregation went to help earthquake victims.

He was in Haiti the last week of January with 12 members of his congregation working on fixing a temporary shelter for orphan children destroyed in the earthquake.

He died after at the medical center after returning to Santo Domingo.

Currently the Ministry of Public Health of the Dominican Republic has put the preacher’s relatives under close surveillance for meningococcal meningitis. In addition, the members of his evangelical mission are being located for prophylatic antibiotics.

The Dominican government is working very hard trying to prevent meningococcal disease in their country. As I mentioned in my January 15th article, meningitis is a common ailment in Haiti.

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, which causes the most severe form of bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also be found in the bloodstream. This particular type of meningitis is very severe and can result in death if not treated promptly. Even in cases where treatment has been given, the fatality rate is around 15%.

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are sudden, with fever, stiff neck, body aches and headaches. As the disease progresses other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, photophobia and seizures. A petechial rash seen on the trunk and lower extremities, bleeding complications, multi-organ failures and shock are usually final signs. This disease has the ability to kill within hours of getting it.

Up to 10-20% of older children and young adults carry this organism in the mouth and nose, though the carriage rate will vary with age and closeness of population. The majority of people that carry this bacterium have no clinical disease. The organism is spread person to person through respiratory secretions from the nose and mouth (coughing, sneezing and kissing). Experts are unsure why some people advance to meningitis disease while many do not.

Crowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the organisms and places like military barracks and college dormitories are well documented areas of concern with this disease.