The mysterious and unexpected death of well-known gay activist Ivan Toms was caused by meningococcal meningitis says the state pathologist’s office.

Toms, who was Cape Town’s executive director of health, was found dead in his Mowbray home on Tuesday morning. He was also a much-lauded anti-apartheid, gay rights and health activist.

The results of the his autopsy were announced at a media briefing by city manager Achmat Ebrahim, who said that the cause of Toms’ death was meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes around the brain.

Acting city health director Dr Ivan Bromfield told journalists that in some cases the onset of the disease can be in a matter of hours and be “catastrophic.” He speculated that Toms may have taken pills for a headache and then slipped into a coma after lying down.

It is possible that the infection could cause confusion leaving the person unable to seek help, he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord caused by several different bacteria. The most common symptoms are stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.

Even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate therapy instituted, 5% to 10% of patients die, typically within 24-48 hours of onset of symptoms.

Toms’ only surviving relative, his brother Charles Toms, who has been on a cruise in the pacific is said to be returning to South Africa for Toms’ funeral, expected to take place on April 4.

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