Continued vigilance required for meningococcal disease

News article

14 January 2019

GPs and emergency departments nationwide remain on high alert for people seeking medical help with possible symptoms of meningococcal disease.

In 2018, there were 120 reported meningococcal cases including 10 deaths. A similar number of cases and deaths were reported in 2017. In 2018 there were 33 cases of the meningococcal W (Men W) strain including six deaths compared to 12 cases of Men W including 3 deaths in 2017. 

In Northland, a targeted vaccination programme is underway after a local outbreak of Men W late last year. The Ministry of Health and Northland DHB continue to work closely together to ensure the best response to this outbreak.

The Ministry also continues to work with other district health boards and closely monitor meningococcal disease cases nationwide, including for strains A,B,C,W and Y. ESR publishes regular reports on meningococcal disease cases

So far in 2019 (as at 8 January), there have been three cases of confirmed meningococcal disease with a further two under investigation. The confirmed cases were due to the B and C strains.

The bacteria which cause meningococcal disease can be spread from person-to-person by respiratory and throat secretions (e.g. saliva and spit). However, the bacteria are not easily spread and generally require close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria (who is usually completely well). 

Therefore, we recommend covering your nose or mouth when you sneeze or cough, and washing and drying your hands afterwards. Also, avoid sharing the same eating or drinking utensils, toothbrushes and pacifiers.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes some very serious illnesses, including meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). The disease can develop very quickly, causing death or permanent disability. Early treatment with antibiotics is vital.

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses, such as the flu. Symptoms can develop suddenly and include a high fever, headache, sleepiness, joint and muscle pains.

There can also be some more specific symptoms, such as a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, vomiting, crying, refusal to feed (in infants) and a rash consisting of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises.

If you or your whanau have these symptoms, it is very important to act fast. Talk to your doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 as soon as possible - irrespective of whether you have been vaccinated or not.