/ 26 March 2008

Toms died of meningitis, says city manager

Cape Town’s director of health, Dr Ivan Toms, died of meningitis, city manager Achmat Ebrahim said on Wednesday.

Toms, an anti-apartheid and gay rights activist, was found dead in his Mowbray home on Tuesday morning.

Ebrahim told journalists at a briefing that the city had been told by the state pathologist’s office that the death was being attributed to meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes around the brain.

The estimated time of death was late Monday afternoon or early Monday evening.

Ebrahim said this was a notifiable disease, and the city’s health department would follow up on contacts and prophylaxis.

Acting city health director Dr Ivan Bromfield said meningococcal meningitis was caused by a bacterium that many people carried in their nasal passages without any ill effects.

In a very small minority of cases the organism might cause meningitis.

Last year there had been 74 cases reported in Cape Town, of which eight were fatal.

He said meningococcal meningitis was a communicable disease, spread between people who had been in very close contact over a prolonged period.

Symptoms included sudden fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and a fine pink rash.

In the vast majority of meningitis cases, no identifiable contacts could be found — in other words, the source of the infection remained unknown.

He said it was possible to have a ”quite acute” onset of symptoms.

Toms had been alone at home at the time.

Specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Cape Town Dr Graeme Meintjes said in most cases it took one or two days between the emergence of the first symptoms and death, but the disease could sometimes take a ”catastrophic” course.

In those cases, it could be only a matter of hours between the onset of symptoms and a fatal outcome.

One of the signs of meningococcal meningitis was confusion, and it was possible a person might become confused and be unable to seek help.

Ebrahim said it appeared that Toms’s sole living relative, his brother Charles, who has been on a Pacific cruise, would arrive in Cape Town next Wednesday, and that the funeral service would likely be on April 4. — Sapa