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Netherlands Vaccine Development Experts Visit NZ

8 December 2000

Netherlands Vaccine Development Experts Visit New Zealand

NEW Zealand health officials met in Auckland this week with representatives of the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to discuss progress on development of a vaccine to help control the New Zealand group B meningococcal disease epidemic.

The Institute is one of three international vaccine manufacturers with which New Zealand has been liaising for the development of a safe and effective vaccine to help control the meningococcal epidemic which began in 1991. The other manufacturers are the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Norway; and the Finlay Institute, Cuba. RIVM is a public health institute primarily responsible for the vaccination programme of the Netherlands. It advises the Netherlands Government and develops and provides the Netherlands population with vaccines.

Deputy Director General of Public Health Don Matheson said the meeting this week was very positive and provided further information about the Institute's progress in developing a New Zealand strain-specific vaccine. Similar meetings have also been held with the Norwegian and Cuban manufacturers in the past few months.

Dr Matheson said while the three vaccine institutes had done a great deal of work towards developing a vaccine for New Zealand, consideration was being given to working with a single manufacturer rather than all three.

"We are well aware that vaccine development takes time and that there are international standards which must be met, but we are also conscious that we need a vaccine in New Zealand as soon as possible. We are currently considering whether it would be more efficient to work with just one manufacturer".

Dr Matheson said that while a recommendation outlining the way forward was close, it was still too early to say when a vaccine would be available for trial in New Zealand.

"The international standards for vaccine development means that progress is very much in the hands of the scientific and manufacturing processes in place in the three countries that are helping us."

Dr Matheson said that development and eventual trial of a vaccine to fight the serogroup B meningococcal epidemic is one part of the national plan for the prevention and control of meningococcal disease. Other aspects include increased disease surveillance, increasing public and professional awareness of the disease and the need for early diagnosis and early treatment, and the prevention of secondary cases through contact tracing and medication.

"Until we have a vaccine in New Zealand, the best advice to the public regarding meningococcal is "don't wait - take action."

"Meningococcal disease can cause two very serious illnesses, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis (an infection of the brain membranes). Prompt treatment with antibiotics, usually by injection, can prevent death or permanent disability such as brain damage or deafness.

"Meningococcal disease can look like a case of the flu in the early stages, but the patient's condition will rapidly deteriorate. It's important that people who are showing symptom, or parents or caregivers with a child who is very sick with a fever should seek immediate advice from a doctor," Dr Matheson said.

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include a fever or rash or spots, headaches or vomiting. A child with meningococcal disease may refuse drink or food, vomit and cry or be unsettled.

END

For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address: http://www.moh.govt.nz/media.html

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by a bacterium (germ) Neisseria meningitidis, known as a meningococcus. It usually affects the membrane around the brain (meningitis) or the blood (blood poisoning). It is a serious disease and can sometimes cause death or permanent disability such as deafness.

Development of a vaccine strategy is one part of the national plan for the prevention and control of meningococcal disease. Other aspects of the national plan include increased disease surveillance, increasing public and professional awareness of the disease and the need for early diagnosis and early treatment, and the prevention of secondary cases through contact tracing and medication.

Statistics Since 1 January 1991 - 31 August 2000 a total of 3368 cases of all groups of meningococcal disease have been notified - many of them sero-group B cases. Last year 505 cases of meningococcal disease were reported, including 23 deaths.

For the year to date from 1 January 2000 - 27 October 2000, there have been 400 cases of meningococcal disease and 15 deaths. At the same time in 1999, there were 420 cases and 20 deaths.

There were 440 cases and 23 deaths in 1998. The peak year in the epidemic so far was 1997 when 613 cases were notified, including 24 deaths.

Key messages for meningococcal disease

Don't wait - take action: see a doctor if you or your child is sick.

If your child is sick - check often.

Meningococcal disease - early treatment saves lives.

Your child may be seriously ill if they: - have a fever - refuse drinks or feeds - are sleepy or floppy - or harder to wake - vomit - are crying or unsettled - have a rash/spots - have a headache.

Doctor' visits are free for children under six.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease - though those at greatest risk are children under five and young adults.

if your child gets worse - take them straight back to the doctor.

END


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