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More Students Receive Antibiotics In Balclutha

Wed, 21 Aug 2002

Ministry of Health Media Release on behalf of Public Health South

21 August 2002

Balclutha Parents' Fears Diminishing As More Students Receive Antibiotics

Students at two Balclutha schools are much less likely to develop group C meningococcal disease now that 80 percent of them have received a short course of antibiotics that kill the meningococcal organism, Medical Officer of Health Dr John Holmes said today.

"About 360 out of 430 at South Otago High School, and around 255 students out of 330 at Rosebank Primary School have received either tablet or syrup antibiotics over the past three days."

Dr Holmes said giving out the antibiotics had been a large logistic task but with the help of public health nurses from around the region, and a rapid response from parents to sign consent forms, it had taken only three days to have 80 percent of students treated.

"The antibiotic programme is helping allay the fears of Balclutha families. We are pleased that so many students have already received antibiotics which reduces the change of other cases in the community.

"To date there have been no further cases of group C meningococcal disease reported from Balclutha."

Dr Holmes said today, of the six confirmed cases of meningococcal disease from Balclutha, five have now been confirmed to be group C.

The five confirmed cases include four students from South Otago High School and one student from Rosebank Primary School. The sixth student, from Rosebank Primary School, has meningococcal disease but laboratory tests have not been able to confirm what type. "It is most likely the student has group C meningococcal disease."

Dr Holmes said South Otago High School students and teachers will be offered vaccination on Thursday and Friday this week.

"Antibiotics will be available until the end of the week for any South Otago High School or Rosebank Primary School who have not yet received them. We will continue to review the overall situation as to whether the antibiotic or vaccination programme needs to be extended."

While the Public South Health team have been working to control spread of the disease in Balclutha, other cases of meningococcal disease continue to be confirmed in other parts of the country.

Within the Southland and Otago regions there have been two cases of group C meningococcal disease, one in Dunedin and one in Invercargill. Their close contacts have been followed up and offered antibiotics.

Dr Holmes again emphasised to the public the need to remain alert to the symptoms of meningococcal disease.

"Symptoms can include vomiting, fever, headaches, stiff neck and a fine rash, and babies can refuse drinks or feeds, and be sleepy, floppy or difficult to wake. Parents and friends of those who are ill should pay close attention to any such sign and this includes people in Balclutha who have recently received antibiotics and or vaccine."

Anyone in the South Otago region wanting more information on the disease and how it is to be managed can ring 0800 153 020 between 8am and 8pm.


This media release has been distributed by the Ministry of health on behalf of Public Health South. For more information contact: Hayley Brock Media Advisor (04) 496 2115, 025 495 989


What is meningococcal disease? 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.

Can meningococcal disease be treated? Yes. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. It is very important that antibiotic treatment is started early. However, even with treatment, death, disfigurement and disability can still occur.

Can meningococcal disease be prevented? The spread of meningococcal disease from person to person can be prevented once the disease has been identified and close contacts of that person are given antibiotics to clear the organism from their throat.

Some forms of meningococcal disease can be prevented by vaccine. Vaccines effective against meningococcal groups A, C, Y and W135 are currently licensed for use in New Zealand. Outbreaks of group A and C meningococcal disease have been successfully controlled by immunisation programmes. At present the type of meningococcal disease causing the majority of cases in New Zealand is a strain of group B.

How is meningococcal disease spread? The bacteria (meningococci) can be spread by close contact with someone who is carrying it.

Close contact means: Living in the same household Sleeping in the same room Attending the same pre-school (for more than just a few hours a week) Sharing food, drink or utensils Kissing Sharing spit ? from whistles, cigarettes, chewing gum etc.

People often carry the meningococcal bacteria harmlessly in their nose and throat without getting ill. As many as two people in every 10 may carry the bacteria (meningococci) in their throats. This figure can sometimes be as high as five in every 10 in specific communities.

NB: Meningococcal disease cannot be caught by putting your head under the water in hot pools found in New Zealand. Amoebic meningitis may occur after exposure to a different organism from that which causes meningococcal disease.

Why do only some people get sick with meningococcal disease? Meningococci bacteria are often present in many people without causing disease, but on rare occasions they penetrate the defences of the lining of the throat to cause an invasive life-threatening illness. The reasons why this occurs in one person and not another is unclear.

Invasive disease is more common in infants and young adults, and appears to occur in the first few days of exposure of a susceptible person, after which immunity develops. In children the illness may be very nonspecific however it may quickly become life threatening. This is why it is most important to recognize the early signs of meningococcal disease and to take appropriate action.


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