MEDIA RELEASE: MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE OUTBREAK

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has declared an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Fiji.Meningococcal disease is a life-threating disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It can cause infections in the lining of the brain (meningitis) and in the blood (meningococcemia), or both. These conditions are very serious and can be deadly, but can be treated if detected early.
 
Identifying symptoms early and seeking urgent medical treatment at a health facility is critical, and will give a person the best chance of survival. Meningococcal disease can only be treated at a health facility with antibiotic medication (medicines that kills bacteria in the body) specifically used for this disease. People with meningococcal disease will be admitted to hospital.
 
Over recent years Fiji has had an increase in cases of meningococcal disease. Prior to 2016, there were 1-10 cases per year reported. In 2016 there were 29 cases, and in 2017 there were 48 cases. In 2018, there have been 18 cases as of February 21st.
 
Even with the recent increase in cases, meningococcal disease remains uncommon in Fiji. However, this disease has a high death rate. According to the WHO, without appropriate medical treatment, up to 50% of people who get the disease will die. Most people who get the disease, and are treated appropriately, will recover fully, however 10-15% will still die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities, including severe brain damage.
 
In 2017, 14.4% of all people who had meningococcal disease in Fiji died. To put this in context, the death rate for dengue fever in Fiji is 0.4-0.6% annually, even during outbreaks. 
 
This is why the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is taking nation-wide action.
 
The meningococcal disease bacteria are not easily transmitted but are spread from person to person via transfer of saliva or spit. This can happen when a person with the bacteria coughs on an uninfected person, or deeply kisses an uninfected person on the mouth. It may also be spread through sharing of drinks from the same glass/cup, water bottle or bowl e.g. kava or taki alcohol at nightclub. Babies and children under the age of 5 frequently put things into their mouths, therefore they are also at risk of getting the bacteria.
 
Not everyone who has the bacteria will get the disease. Approximately 10-20% of the general population will carry the bacteria at the back of their nose and mouth from time to time, but will not have any symptoms. This is because meningococcal disease only occurs when the bacteria get into the bloodstream, and this happens in less than 1% of those that have it.
 
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. However, it occurs most often in babies, children under the age of 5, teenagers and young adults. And there is an increased risk of meningococcal disease spreading in boarding schools and between people living within the same house.
 
Practicing proper hygiene can help prevent the spread of the disease:
 
·         Cover your mouth and nose with tissue or handkerchief when coughing and sneezing. Dispose of tissues in the bin, wash handkerchief daily with soap and water
·         After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands with soap and water
·         Don’t share eating utensils, cups/glasses/water bottles, drinks (taki), cigarettes, or kava bowls.
 
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has set up a Meningococcal Disease Taskforce that is working to strengthen early detection and urgent treatment of patients suspected to have meningococcal disease at all health facilities. This will involve training of clinical staff in case management, as well as training public health officers in preventing spread in the community through education and treatment of close contacts of cases. The Taskforce is also conducting urgent consultations with our development partners on procurement of vaccines for meningococcal disease.
 
Public awareness is also a key component of the Ministry’s strategy to combat the disease, and we urge everyone to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease (described in the attached information sheet) and go urgently to a health facility if they are present.
 
For more information please visit your nearest health facility or the ‘My Health Section’ on the Ministry of Health and Medical Services website http://www.health.gov.fj

YAKO JOINS COMMUNITY HEALTH AND FITNESS PROGRAM

Yako Village has become the latest community in the country to join the Community Health and Fitness Program following the launch by the Minister for Health and Medical Services Hon. Rosy Sofia Akbar at its village hall today. The village, through the programme, has received two fitness bikes, three sewing machines, and steam cooker sets.

Turaga ni Koro Samisoni Raidriwa said the villagers were honoured to have hosted the programme, adding that they would put these equipment to the best use.

“As the case in  Fijian settlements and villages, we only exercise when we are young, and as we grow older, we tend to stop doing things that help us stay fit and healthy,” he said.

“As a result of this we have five villagers who have undergone amputation. We have now realized the need to continuously engage in health and fitness exercises and we are grateful that we have now received these equipment.”

Minister Akbar urged the villager to use the equipment to its full potentials however, highlighted the need for the villagers to take ownership of the equipment through taking good care of it.

“I urge you all especially our mothers and the women of the village to also use this equipment because most of the time we are left behind but we must be able to stay fit and feed our family members healthy foods,” Minister Akbar said.

“Please take good care of the equipment because it is your equipment and everybody must take responsibility in its upkeep and maintenance.”

(Pictures from this event can be accessed from the Fijian Government Facebook page.)

Vaccination response to meningococcal outbreak at St John’s College Cawaci, Levuka

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS) has been working closely with the Ministry of Education and World Health Organization (WHO) to address the recent outbreak of meningococcal disease at the St John’s College Cawaci in Levuka, Ovalau Island.

Meningococcal disease is a life threatening bacterial infection that usually causes inflammation on the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and/or blood poisoning (meningococcemia). Whilst the disease is not common, it is a very serious illness that can develop quickly and cause death.

In response to the outbreak, the MOHMS sent a vaccination team to Levuka to vaccinate all students and staff at the college with the meningococcal vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur Menactra. Vaccination is critical to preventing the spread of meningococcal disease as the vaccine builds a person’s immune system to fight against the bacteria.

The meningococcal vaccine was supplied by the WHO and provides protection against meningococcal serogroup A, C, Y, W135. Testing of suspected case samples in Australian laboratories, facilitated by WHO, confirmed that meningococcal serogroup C was responsible for this recent outbreak.

The vaccine was administered by a single injection in the upper arm. This vaccine can cause some side effects, such as low grade fever, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and swelling where the injection was given; however the risk of serious side effects is extremely low. As such a team of medical staff were assigned to monitor all students in the school following their vaccination and treat any complaints.

In addition to the vaccination program, the MOHMS will continue to provide important meningococcal health information to equip students and staff with necessary knowledge about the disease and increase monitoring of students to support early detection and rapid treatment of potential new cases.