Meningococcal Disease

Meningococcal Disease

What is it?

  • 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 if not threated immediately
  • Over recent years Fiji has seen an increase in cases of people getting meningococcal C disease (Men C). This is why the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (the Ministry) is taking immediate, nation-wide action.
  • On 20th March 2018 the Ministry declared a National Meningococcal Disease Outbreak for serogroup C also known as Men C.

Meningococcal disease is very serious but can be treated if detected early

  • 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.
  • Identifying the symptoms and seeking urgent medical treatment at a health facility is critical and will give a sick person the best chance of survival. In previous outbreaks worldwide, up to 50% of people who got the disease died when they did not get treatment.
  • 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.
  • If you notice signs and symptoms of this disease, you must urgently visit your nearest health facility.
  • A person may start to feel sick within 3 to 7 days after coming in contact with the bacteria.
  • It is critical that everyone knows the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease, so they can seek immediate medical treatment if they suspect meningococcal disease.

Signs and symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

  • Symptoms of meningococcal disease, especially for older children and adults include sudden fever, vomiting, headache, and stiff neck/backache. Other symptoms include:
    • Nausea
    • Eyes are sensitive to light
    • Confusion
    • Rash – red/purple spots in the skin
  • It can be difficult to notice the symptoms in babies, or they may not be there at all. Some of the symptoms that you should be alert for are:
    • High fever
    • Unusual crying
    • Refusing to eat or drink
    • Vomiting
    • Floppy/drowsy
    • changes in sleeping patterns
    • Seizures or Fits
    • Rash – red/purple spots on the skin
  • This is a deadly disease. If a person has the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease, they require urgent medical treatment.

Meningococcal disease is spread from person-to-person

  • The meningococcal  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 or deep kisses an uninfected person. It can even spread if a person shares drinks from the same glass or bowl at a social gathering e.g. kava or taki at nightclub.
  • Babies and children under the age of 5 frequently put things into their mouths, therefore they are at higher risk of getting the bacteria.
  • Not everyone who has the bacteria will get the disease. Approximately 10% of the general population will carry the bacteria at the back of their nose and mouth from time to time, but will not have symptoms also known as ‘herd immunity’. This is because the bacteria need to get into the bloodstream to cause the disease.

Certain People are at Increased Risk for Meningococcal Disease

  • Anyone can get meningococcal disease. However children between 1-19 years of age  are the most at risk of getting meningococcal –disease.
  • There is an increased risk of meningococcal disease spreading in boarding schools and between people living within the same house.
  • People who have certain medical conditions that weaken their immune systems.

The latest case information shows that the vast majority of cases recorded in Fiji this year have been in the under 19 age group, with close to 40 per cent under the age of 5. All the deaths this year have been in the under 5 age group.  Thus, individuals under 19 years old are the most at-risk for getting the disease  and are also known to be the biggest age group that spread the bacteria, likely for behavioural reasons.

Prevention

Meningococcal disease can be prevented by practicing proper hygiene and immunization.

  • Everyone is encouraged to practicing proper hygiene by
    • Covering their mouth and nose with tissue or handkerchief when coughing and sneezing
    • Disposing tissue in the bin, washing 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 at social gathering (taki), cigarettes, or kava bowls.
  • Immunization
    • The Ministry of Health and Medical Services aims to vaccinate all children aged from 1 to 19 years with Men C vaccine. The vaccination program will target meningococcal C because this is the type of bacteria that is causing this outbreak.
    • Once immunized it takes a month (4 weeks) for your body to build protection/ immunity against the meningococcal disease. It is recommended that you continue to practice proper hygiene as listed above to keep yourself and your family protected.

For more information please visit your nearest health facility.

More info about the Vaccination go to this page.

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