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Hand Washing Important to Control Spread of Virus

7 September 2000

Hand Washing Important to Control Spread of Virus

HEALTH officials are reminding people of the importance of good hygiene, following outbreaks of viral meningitis caused by Echovirus 33.

A total of 47 cases have been confirmed in the North Island, with reports from Northland to Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Hutt regions so far this year. One baby has died from the infection.

Senior Advisor, Dr Douglas Lush said that the virus can cause severe illness and death in small babies and may affect the unborn child.

The virus is present in faeces, and inadequate hygiene can result in contamination of the hands, and subsequent contamination of food. It can also be spread person to person through hand contact.

Dr Lush said good hygiene, particularly thorough hand washing with soap, is the best form of protection.

"Simple measures such as washing hands thoroughly after use of the toilet, before food preparation and before and after handling babies and their nappies will help control the outbreak."

Symptoms of viral meningitis/echovirus type 33 include fever, headache, rash, vomiting and diarrhoea. Infants may be lethargic, irritable or not feeding properly. Anyone showing these symptoms should seek medical attention. Parents should be particularly vigilant of these symptoms in babies and young children and seek medical treatment if they have any concerns.


For more information contact: Sue McCabe, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2067 or 025-495-989 Internet address:

Background Information

Many viruses may cause meningitis, (although the severity may vary.) Treatment includes supportive treatment and close monitoring. Most people who become infected recover, however very young children and unborn babies are most at risk of developing serious illness.

Echovirus type 33 was first identified in a child in Mexico in 1959. It has since been reported in Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Brazil and Japan. Until this year, Echovirus type 33 was rare in New Zealand, with only six cases in the previous two decades.

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