Northland Medical Officer of Health Dr José M Ortega has issued a warning for the public to boost their knowledge of the Group W meningococcal disease (MenW), and to ensure that those with possible symptoms seek swift medical attention, in response to a significant increase in cases.
"This MenW strain is associated with high mortality rates, and can affect all age groups. Northland has been the worst affected, with seven cases so far this year, sadly including three deaths," Dr Ortega said.
"I want to express Northland DHB's deep condolences to those families, friends and whānau who have lost loved ones."
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Meningococcal disease was a bacterial infection that caused two very serious illnesses, meningitis (an infection of the membranes covering the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). This particular strain of MenW was associated with a high case-fatality rate, as well as atypical presentation, including, in particular gastro-intestinal symptoms.
Meningococcal disease may initially appear as a flu-like illness, but could progress very quickly.
"It can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses," Dr Ortega said.
"It spreads through close intimate contact with other people. Those who live and sleep in the same house as someone with meningococcal disease are most at risk.
"The key message is, if your child or family member is sick take them to the doctor.
It was important to know the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease because it could develop very quickly, he added. It could be treated with antibiotics, but early treatment was very important.
Vaccines that protected against different groups of meningococcal disease (A, C, Y and W) were not free for the general public, but were available for purchase at general practices if people wanted them.
Anyone who noticed symptoms of meningococcal disease, or had any other concerns, was advised to contact their doctor without delay, or call Healthline free on 0800 611-116 (24/7), even if they had already been seen by a health professional.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease can include high temperature, headache, confusion and sleepiness, joint pain, aching muscles and/or neck stiffness, a dislike of bright lights, nausea or vomiting, and a red or purple skin rash.
In its early stages it may mimic influenza, while the MenW strain that is currently causing concern in Northland may also present gastro-intestinal symptoms.