The father of a man who died of meningitis in 2011 after ''a series of blunders'' at Whangārei Hospital is outraged the district health board failed to issue warnings after recent cases.

Northland District Health Board boss Dr Nick Chamberlain this week said the public can be assured doctors and hospital emergency departments are on alert for meningococcal symptoms,

The health board has been under fire for keeping quiet about Northland cases, including three deaths in the past six months. Now it is warning people to be alert for symptoms.

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Darren Brown, the father of Whangārei man Ben Brown who died in 2011 after ''a series of blunders'' at Whangārei Hospital, is outraged the board did not issue public warnings after the recent cases.

Brown died after being sent home from Whangārei Hospital's emergency department with the illness undiagnosed. Its symptoms were masked to a degree by antibiotics he was given earlier at White Cross where he went first after becoming seriously ill.

''It's alarming, to say the least, that [Northland DHB] is still sitting on their hands when it comes to the meningitis topic,'' Darren Brown said.

An internal heralth board memo in May advised staff to have their children immunised because a wave of cases of the new meningococcal W strain was expected.

The general public were not alerted; with the district health board subsequently saying it did not want to alarm people.

At least two of the deaths took place after the district health board staff memo - a 16-year-old boy from Kerikeri and a 7-year-old girl from Hikurangi. The health board refuses to say when the third death occurred.

Rowshae Albert, the mother of 7-year-old Alexis Albert, said had the family known about the meningococcal threat and symptoms, they would have acted far more quickly - and their child might still be alive.

Darren Brown said the DHB's lack of public warning was ''disgraceful'', and he was wary about assurances about medical staff being aware of the meningococcal factor.


''The weeks leading up to Ben's death the Northern Advocate had articles to alert locals about meningitis in the community at the time, only for the district health board to act slowly in Ben's case.''

Chamberlain said the district health board implemented extra clinical steps after Brown died in August 2011 during a nationwide spike in the disease.

Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain.
Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain.

He said there have been no new cases of any meningococcal strains in Northland since October, although people must remain very alert about any illness that rapidly become serious.

''It is important that the community and healthcare professional remain vigilant because this new strain of meningococcus (MenW) can look like any form of infection and appears randomly for no apparent reason,'' Chamberlain said.

Bacterial or viral meningococcal disease causes meningitis - an infection of the membranes that cover the brain - and septicaemia, or blood poisoning.

The Meningococcal W super-strain all three Northlanders died of is harder to diagnose, more virulent and affects a broad age range.

The news of the Northland cases became public earlier this month when the Ministry of Health announced it was considering rolling out a vaccine programme in Northland.

The ministry said Northland was New Zealand's worst affected region, with seven of the 24 MenW cases nationwide at that time, and half the deaths.

Chamberlain said the board has been working closely with the MoH, including discussing a vaccination programme.

''We are hopeful that there will be a decision soon.''