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Meningococcal Disease Rates Continue to Rise

30 April 2001

Meningococcal Disease Rates Continue to Rise

DON'T WAIT, take action, is still the message regarding meningococcal disease, as rates continue to rise throughout New Zealand.

Ministry of Health Public Health Medicine Specialist Dr Jane O'Hallahan said people who are feeling ill, or parents or caregivers with a child who has a fever, is refusing food, vomitting, has a headcache, rash or spots, should seek medical treatment.

"If symptoms become worse, they should go back to the doctor," Dr O'Hallahan said.

As at 20 April 2001, the provisional number of cases of meningococcal disease in 2001 was 136, with five deaths. At the same time in 2000, there were 90 cases and two deaths. Since 1 January 1991, when the epidemic began to 20 April 2001, a total of 3687 cases of all groups of meningococcal disease have been notified, many of them sero-groupB cases, including 163 deaths.

Dr O'Hallahan said with winter approaching, people should be particularly vigilant.

"Meningococcal disease is a year-round disease, but cases do tend to increase during winter and spring. "The rates of disease are higher in Maori and Pacific people, and the rate of disease is highest in children under the age of five years. At greatest risk are Pacific infants under the age of one year."

Dr O'Hallahan is also the Project Manager for the Ministry of Health's Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy team.

"New Zealand has been working with four vaccine manufacturers and has considered opportunities presented by each of the companies. A recommendation on a preferred manufacturer has been made to the Minister of Health and negotiations are currently underway to discuss potential clinical trials and vaccine supply. All discussions with the prefered manufacturer regarding potential vaccine development have been held in good faith and in confidence. An announcement will be made once negotiations are complete."

Dr O'Hallahan said that while vaccine development and eventual vaccine trials are important, they are only 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.

"The key point to remember is that early identification of symptoms and immediate treatment are crucial to preventing deaths and the further spread of the disease.


For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address:


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.

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.


Selina Gentry Media Liaison Communications Corporate & Information Directorate Ministry of Health DDI: 04 496 2483

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