The father of a young Northland man who died of meningococcal C disease has welcomed plans for a mass vaccination campaign in the region.

"It's good that they are introducing it now," Darren Brown, the father of Ben Brown, said yesterday of the plan to vaccinate nearly 40,000 young people.

Ben Brown died in Whangarei Hospital on August 27. In the days before his death he was twice sent home by doctors after assessment: first by an accident and medical clinic, then by the hospital's emergency department. Mr Brown said a complaint had been laid with Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill.

Ben Brown's fatal illness is one of six cases of meningococcal C disease, including two deaths, notified in Northland since July.

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Typically the region has no more than two cases a year.

"The current situation is, therefore, consistent with a community outbreak," said Northland medical officer of health Dr Clair Mills. "... we have decided to launch a vaccination campaign to help control this outbreak and prevent more cases of disease.

"As meningococcal disease tends to have a seasonal pattern, we may see a decline in cases of disease as we move further into spring. This is not certain, however, and we don't wish to wait and see."

Northland has around 44,000 people aged more than 12 months and less than 20. The Northland District Health Board aims to vaccinate 38,000 - 85 per cent - of them in a campaign between Monday and December 16. The single-injection vaccine will be offered to school pupils at school, to pre-schoolers at GP clinics, and to those who have left school at GP and special clinics.

The ministry's director of public health, Dr Darren Hughes, said Northland was the only region experiencing a higher-than-usual rate of C-strain meningococcal infection this year.

He warned that even if people received the C-strain vaccine, warning signs of the disease should still be watched for, because the vaccine did not work in some, and it did not protect against other strains of the bacteria.

Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics if detected early. Symptoms include high fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, aches and a rash.

Urgent medical care should be sought if meningococcal disease is suspected, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

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The vaccine
* Meningitec
* Single dose typically provides at least five years' protection against meningococcal C infection.
* Effective in 90-95 per cent of recipients.
* Protective after 10 days.

Source: Northland District Health Board