Doctor warns public 'be vigilant' about Meningococcal C

By Melissa Hills

Meningococcal C spreads fast in cramped communities. Photo / Getty Images
Meningococcal C spreads fast in cramped communities. Photo / Getty Images

A pediatrician has warned communities throughout New Zealand to "watch this space and continue to be vigilant" against the Meningococcal C virus as winter approaches.

A new paper released in the New Zealand Medical Journal written by Dr Clair Mills details the swift response of the Northland District Health board after eight cases of Meningococcal C were detected in 2011. Six of the cases were in Whangarei, and three people died as a result.

Dr Roger Tuck, who has more than 30 years' experience and works as a pediatrician for Northland DHB said the paper is telling people to watch this space.

"This paper serves as a warning to deprived communities to be aware because Meningococcal C spreads fast in cramped communities."

"It is more severe than the B strain, and when you get an epidemic like we had in Northland in 2011 you have to fight the fire," he said.

"We reacted very quickly and had nurses in schools and in malls co-coordinating the community response and GPs were also immunising the community.

"With the winter coming, people all over the country need to be on their guard and watch this space and continue to be vigilant against the disease," said Dr Tuck.

He explained an area like Northland is more at risk because it is deprived, and the disease is more likely to spread in cramped conditions where lots of people congregate.

"It is more likely to spread in winter because people go outside less and spend more time inside homes, which are cramped and not well ventilated enough."

Dr Tuck said there was not yet a need for a nationwide vaccine, but communities needed to remain vigilant.

"Our population is rising and until we have everyone in well ventilated and well built homes there is always going to be a risk of this disease in poorer areas.

"New Zealand doesn't have enough cases as yet to warrant a nationwide vaccination programme, but we must be aware.

"The Northland DHB is open to questions and will help any other communities which find themselves in the situation we were in in 2011," Dr Tuck said.

The study said: "Nationally the rate of Meningococcal C disease has fluctuated in the last decade, with an increasing trend since 2007."

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Symptoms for Meningococcal C include:

• a high fever

• severe headaches

• vomiting

• a rash with pinpoint like spots.

It commonly presents itself as meningitis or septicemia.

- APNZ

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