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Adult Meningococcal Deaths Ring A Warning

Adult Meningococcal Deaths Ring A Warning

THE unrelated deaths of two adults from meningococcal disease within 10 days of each other highlight the need for people of all ages to be alert for symptoms.

Ministry of Health Senior Advisor, Communicable Disease, Dr Doug Lush, said children under five-years were most at risk from meningococcal disease, followed by youth in their late teens. But people of any age group could contract meningococcal disease, and either die or be left with a serious disability, he said.

"The two deaths of adults within 10 days of each other highlight the need for people of all age groups to be aware of the meningococcal disease epidemic occurring in New Zealand, its symptoms and the need to seek medical treatment immediately."

Dr Lush was speaking after the death of a Wellington woman and a Rotorua woman earlier this month.

"There is a perception that meningococcal disease largely affects children and youth. It is true that 85 per cent of the disease occurs in under-20-year-olds, but this means that 15 per cent of cases occurs in adults.

"Health professionals and the public of New Zealand have a high awareness of this disease, which often means early treatment preventing death and disability takes place. However, the belief that meningococcal disease mostly affects children has in the past resulted in adults leaving it too long before seeking medical attention.

"People can deteriorate within hours, so regularly check on them, for example if an adult has stayed home from work feeling unwell, contact them during the day.

"In 2001, 122 people from the 650 people who contracted meningococcal disease were aged over 20-years. Of the 26 people that died from meningococcal disease in 2001, nine were aged over 20-years.

"The quicker you get to the doctor, the less chance you will die or be permanently disabled. As well as those that die, up to 20 per cent of sufferers are left with permanent disability. Still more have ongoing learning or behaviour difficulties," Dr Lush said.


For more background on either meningococcal disease or the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy, visit http://www.moh.govt.nz/meningococcal.

For local information on meningococcal cases in your area, contact the nearest Medical Officer of Health.

Background Information

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by a bacterium (germ) Neisseria meningitidis, known as a meningococcus. It is commonly referred to as 'meningitis', however meningitis, which can also be caused by many other bacteria, is just one presentation of meningococcal disease. The other is septicemia (blood poisoning)

Meningococcal disease is a serious disease and can sometimes cause death or permanent disability such as deafness or disfigurement.

An unrelated type of meningitis, called amoebic meningitis, can be caused by putting your head under the water at hot pools. Amoebic meningitis is caused by a different organism to meningococcal disease, but immediate medical treatment is also required for amoebic meningitis to minimise the likelihood of disability and death.

What are the symptoms of meningoccocal disease?

At first it can be hard to tell meningococcal disease from other similar illnesses such as influenza. The illness may quickly get worse - sometimes in just a few hours ? and this is why it is important to keep your eye on people who rapidly become ill. Parents or caregivers are warned a baby or child may be seriously ill if they: Have a fever Refuse drinks or feeds Are sleepy or floppy - Are hard to rouse Vomit Are crying or unsettled Have a rash/spots Have a headache.

Adults may: Have a fever and/or headache Vomit Be sleepy, confused, delirious or unconscious Have a stiff neck and dislike bright lights Have joint pain and aching muscles Have a rash or spots

What should someone with suspected meningococcal do?

If an adult or child has the above symptoms it is important to seek medical help quickly. If, after the doctor's visit, the person's condition deteriorates, recontact the doctor.

It is also important to keep an eye on someone who is sick, as they could rapidly deteriorate. For example, if they are sleeping, wake them frequently to check their condition.

How is meningococcal disease caught?

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 in their throats. This figure can sometimes be as high as five in every 10 in specific communities.

The bacteria (meningococci) can be spread by close contact with someone who is carrying it. This happens usually without causing harm. 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, chewing gum etc.

How many people are affected by meningococcal disease in New Zealand?

Since the epidemic took hold in 1991, up until December 31, 2001, more than 4200 cases of meningococcal disease were recorded.

In 2001, 650 cases of meningococcal disease were reported, with 26 deaths. That's an average of one person dying every two weeks, making it the worst year on record since the meningococcal epidemic started sweeping through New Zealand 11 years ago. Previously, the highest number of cases had occurred in 1997 when 613 cases including 24 deaths were reported.

In 2000, 480 cases and 17 deaths were reported. Figures show that in the five years from 1996 to 2000 there was an average of 500 cases of meningococcal disease reported each year.

The Ministry of Health publishes weekly statistical information collected by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) on its website.

What is being done to combat the meningococcal disease epidemic in New Zealand?

The Ministry of Health is managing a national prevention and control strategy for meningococcal disease. The strategy has a number of components: Intensified epidemiological surveillance Promoting public awareness to encourage early medical intervention Promoting professional awareness to encourage early diagnosis and treatment Prevention of secondary cases by notification, contact tracing and offering prophylactic antibiotics A three-year case control study, completed in 2001, to identify modifiable risk factors and the use of results from this and other research to positively influence and policy programmes in health and other sectors. A Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy - The production ,clinical trial and national immunisation campaign of a vaccine specifically targeting the New Zealand strain of group B meningococcal disease. For more information on the Meningococcal Vaccine Strategy visit http://www.moh.govt.nz/meningococcal.

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