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Controlling Meningococcal Disease

Early Intervention Key To Controlling Meningococcal Disease

EARLY intervention is a crucial factor in efforts to control meningococcal disease, Ministry of Health Public Health Medicine Specialist Dr Jane O'Hallahan said today.

"Meningococcal disease is a year-round disease, but cases do tend to increase during winter and spring, so people need to be particularly vigilant.

"People who are feeling ill, or parents or caregivers with a child who has a fever, is refusing food, vomiting, has a headache, rash or spots, they should seek medical treatment. If symptoms become worse, they should go back to the doctor," Dr O'Hallahan said.

"People need to recognise that this disease strikes rapidly, and if people have any symptoms at all, they should see a doctor."

The year to 1 June 2001 there were 189 cases, including nine deaths. At the same time in 2000, there were 144 cases and two deaths. Last year a total of 480 cases were notified with 17 deaths. This compared to 505 cases in 1999 and 23 deaths. Since 1 January 1991, when the epidemic began to there have been over 3,800 cases including 170 deaths. The peak year was 1997 when 613 cases were notified, including 24 deaths.

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.

"We are currently in the eleventh year of an epidemic which could continue for 15 to 20 years. We are negotiating with a preferred manufacturer regarding vaccine development, but because we have a strain that is unique to any other country in the world, a vaccine must be developed specifically for us. Negotiations are currently underway and an announcement will be made once negotiations are complete.

"Meanwhile, there are continual efforts to promote public and professional awareness to encourage early intervention, diagnosis and treatment.

"In addition, there are systems in place for prevention of secondary cases whereby all GPs are required to notify a Medical Officer of Health of any cases of meningococcal disease. This allows health experts to trace any people who may have been in contact with a person with the disease and provide antibiotic medication. The notification system also allows us to find out, in cases where people require hospitalisation, how many received antibiotics before they were admitted, as this is obviously a key factor in managing the disease."

"The most important factor of all prevention and control initiatives for meningococcal disease is early intervention. Early identification of symptoms and immediate treatment are crucial to preventing deaths and the further spread of the disease."

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.

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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