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Meningococcal Disease on Increase Again

Auckland Healthcare

Press Release

Meningococcal disease on increase again

Public health authorities in Auckland are concerned about a dramatic rise in the number of cases of meningococcal disease over recent weeks. Since the beginning of July there have been 22 cases [editors note: this has now increased to 23] reported in the Auckland region compared with 14 over the same period last year. Four people have died in this period, two infants and two young adults. A similar increase in cases and deaths has been reported from several other parts of the country.

The key message for parents and the public is "don't wait-take action". If meningococcal disease is suspected, people should seek help urgently, either from their family doctor or an after hours medical service. Dr Chris Bullen, a public health medicine specialist with Auckland Healthcare, said it was important for people not to get put off - even if cleared by the doctor. People shouldn't be afraid to go back to the doctor if the person gets worse or is not improving quickly.

Dr Bullen said that meningococcal disease is an aggressive and rapidly progressive disease, which can be fatal if not treated early. Recognition of early presenting features is therefore vital to prevent deaths and disability.

In babies, the disease may present with non-specific features such as irritability, unusual crying, being off feeds or excessive drowsiness. A fever is almost always present and in about 50% of cases a rash develops. This may begin as a few purplish-red spots, which may then develop into a bruise-like rash. Some babies may have a convulsion.

Parents should check babies often if they are unwell, and if concerned go straight to their GP for a check. GP visits for children under six are free.

In older children and adults, the most common features are a combination of high fever, severe headache, drowsiness or confusion, a rash as described above and vomiting. Lethargy, muscle and joint aches and sometimes a stiff neck may also be present. All people who are unwell should be watched carefully to ensure they get urgent attention if their condition deteriorates.

Dr Bullen said that an awareness raising programme co-ordinated by Auckland Healthcare is currently underway. Maori and Pacific families with young children in the areas where most of the cases have come from are being presented with information about the disease through schools, churches and in shopping centres. In some areas door to door visiting is being undertaken by lay educators. A similar programme last year was highly successful in preventing deaths among children in the target areas, said Dr Bullen. In addition, around 50 000 information pamphlets have been distributed by teams of volunteers to homes and schools throughout South Auckland.

A programme keeping GPs up to date on the early diagnosis and management of the killer disease has also been in place over the past few months in anticipation of a rise in incidence over winter.

Media queries contact: Dr Chris Bullen, Public Health Medicine Specialist, Auckland Healthcare Ph 262 1855 or 025 281 6612

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