Fears of deadly outbreak unfounded

By Jarrod Booker

Bill Perry. Photo / Supplied
Bill Perry. Photo / Supplied

When Bill Perry spoke to a colleague by telephone on Friday night he described being under the weather - without giving cause for alarm.

Mr Perry, 48, a father of three and respected New Zealand chief executive of contracting company Fulton Hogan, had begun feeling unwell that morning and had taken the day off work to recover, said Fulton Hogan Group managing director Nick Miller.

"At that point the indication was that he was suffering from a reasonably serious case of the flu," Mr Miller told the Herald.

"Tragically, I didn't get to speak with him again."

Early the next morning Mr Perry was rushed to Christchurch Hospital suffering a rare and aggressive strain of meningococcal disease. He died just a few hours later.

Described as a charismatic leader and devoted husband, Mr Perry was "like no other" and would be "agonisingly missed", said his wife, Nic, in a death notice.

What followed was the appearance of the disease in another of Mr Perry's colleagues aged in his 40s, a woman in her 40s in Christchurch, and a baby in Dunedin - raising fears of a deadly outbreak.

Medical authorities yesterday said that while there was an obvious link between Mr Perry and his colleague - they had been in meetings and eaten together - the other cases seemed to be coincidental. The baby's disease was found to be of a different type from that affecting the three adults.

The type C strain of the disease that struck down Mr Perry is usually found in young adults. A theory that the disease was being carried by teenagers in contact with the infected adults had been found to be without foundation, said Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey.

Dr Humphrey said the communities where the cases occurred had no reason to fear further infections. Those in contact with the infected people had been spoken to and given antibiotics where necessary.

"It's been great work from the Public Health Unit. They have worked very fast," Dr Humphrey said.

"There will always be cases from time to time that pop up, but ... we do not expect any further cases to arise from these three [adult] cases."

The infected Fulton Hogan employee and the infected woman were both recovering well after treatment, Dr Humphrey said. The baby had been treated and discharged from Dunedin Hospital.

Mr Miller said other Fulton Hogan staff who had been in contact with Mr Perry, including himself, had been given the best advice and support from medical professionals.

Mr Perry's funeral is tomorrow.

* Spread through contact with respiratory secretions by coughing, sneezing and kissing.
* Symptoms may include a high fever, headache, vomiting or refusal of feeds, sleepiness, a stiff neck and dislike of bright lights, joint and muscle pains and a rash.
* The disease can cause meningitis (an infection of the brain membranes) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can sometimes cause death or permanent disability.
* The disease is most common in children under the age of 5 years, although it can occur at any age.

- NZ Herald

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