The Interior Health Region is offering immunization services to young people throughout the Okanagan to deal with what it is calling an outbreak of meningococcal disease.

The clinics will be offered free for youth in Grades 9 to 12 and others 15 to 19 years of age who do not attend school.

Over the last 11 months, Interior Health says, it has identified 11 cases of the disease — a majority of these cases in the Okanagan. Most have occurred in the last six months.

Typically, the health authority will see less than five cases per year.

“The risk to the general population is low,” said Dr. Karin Goodison, IHA’s Medical Health Officer. “However, with the increase in the number of cases and the fact that this disease can be prevented through immunization, we felt it important to raise the public’s awareness . . . and roll out a campaign to immunize those at the highest risk.

“Immunization is the best form of defence against this disease,” she added. “We are encouraging all people in this age group who live in the Okanagan to get immunized.”

Immunizations started Thursday at a school in Vernon and clinics will continue to roll out at Okanagan schools next week to ensure immunization before winter holidays.

The IHA did not provide a date for immunizations at schools in Osoyoos and Oliver.

Interior Health will also be offering immunization at public health centres for people who are not attending school or who have missed their school immunization clinic.

Some students may have already received the Meningococcal Quadrivalent vaccine, which has been part of the routine immunization schedule for BC students in Grade 9 since 2016.

Those students who received the vaccine as part of the Grade 9 immunization program within the last year do not need to be re-immunized.

Parents and individuals with questions about their immunization records can call their local health centre or health-care provider.

“As a parent myself, I understand there may be concern and questions,” said Dr. Goodison. “I would encourage parents to visit the Interior Health website to learn more about this disease, signs and symptoms, and to find out when a clinic will be available in their area.”

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that occurs rarely in Canada that is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or close face-to-face contact.

It can also spread through saliva. This can occur through activities such as kissing or sharing of food, drinks, cigarettes, lipsticks, water bottles, mouth guards used for sports, or mouthpieces of musical instruments.

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