Killer disease strain was the same
A Levin teenager and a Wellington schoolgirl who have both died of meningococcal disease in the past two months were infected with similar strains of the illness.
Letitia Gallagher, 18, died at Palmerston North Hospital on July 24.
Last week, Wellington schoolgirl Amanda Crook-Barker, 12, also died of the disease.
Nationwide, there have been 38 cases of meningococcal disease in the year to July, compared to 55 in the same period the year before.
Figures for August and September were not yet available.
There were three cases of meningococcal disease in the MidCentral District diagnosed in July and August 2012 and all have been confirmed as resulting from the group C meningococcus organism, MidCentral Medical Officer of Health Dr Rob Weir said.
Amanda also died from a group C strain of the disease, Wellington health authorities have confirmed.
Most of the cases in New Zealand last year were caused by group B at 62 per cent, while group C caused 38 per cent of confirmed cases.
There are many groups of meningococcal disease, but the most common ones are A, B, C, W135 and Y – all are serious and can lead to life-threatening complications, the Health Ministry says.
Meningitis is caused by a range of bacteria and viruses, including strains of the meningococcal bacterium.
A meningococcal disease epidemic, caused by a group B strain, occurred in New Zealand between 1992 and 2007.
A vaccination programme was introduced in 2004 and ran until 2008, but that protected against group B strains only.
There is currently no free immunisation programme for meningoccocal disease. Vaccines are available for private purchase through GPs.
"You can help stop meningococcal disease from spreading by covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze,'' Weir said.
Washing hands well was important and other vaccines protected against some of the causes of meningitis, including some other strains of meningococcal disease, he said.
''Meningococcal vaccination is recommended for people who have had, or are having, their spleen removed.
''Vaccination is also recommended for young people moving to hostels, military recruits and people with an increased risk of invasive disease - including people with sickle cell anaemia or HIV infection."
Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses such as the flu.
Symptoms include fever, headache, dislike of light, vomiting, a rash that does not fade when pressed, confusion and sleepiness.
"Anyone with some of these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention, as early treatment is extremely important,'' Weir said.
People concerned or confused about symptoms should seek medical advice straight away.
There is also a 24-hour healthline, 0800 611 116.