Teen meningococcal victim farewelled

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 12:52 08/01/2014
Courtenay Rushton
Supplied by family
TRAGIC LOSS: Courtenay Rushton was "a beautiful, outgoing and active young woman".

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Mourners have gathered this afternoon to farewell an Ashburton teenager who died of suspected meningococcal disease.

Sixteen-year-old Courtenay Shavaughan Rushton died in Christchurch Hospital on Friday, four days after she was admitted on December 30.

Her grieving family issued a statement last night through family spokesman Duncan Storrier, ahead of the teenager's funeral in Ashburton this afternoon.

Courtenay's family said they wanted to mark the "tragic and sudden end" to a young life and raise awareness of meningococcal disease.

"Courtenay was a beautiful, outgoing and active young woman who just a week ago was looking forward to a bright and promising future," Storrier said.

"The family are clearly devastated by her loss and struggling to come to terms with the fact she is no longer with us."

The family also thanked the health professionals who "gave her the best possible care during her last days", including Westpac Rescue Helicopter paramedics and doctors and nurses at Christchurch Hospital.

Clinical indications suggested Courtenay's death was most likely caused by meningococcal bacteria, but the diagnosis was unlikely to be confirmed because of prompt treatment with antibiotics.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said although the disease was frightening, it was rare and most people took all necessary steps to protect their children.

All of Courtenay's recent household contacts had been checked and treated where necessary and there was no risk of them getting ill or passing the infection to anyone else.

Humphrey said Courtenay did not contract meningococcal at Rangi Ruru Girls' School, where she was a boarder, but her death highlighted the slightly higher risk young adults living in residential institutions had of contracting the disease.

'It's the nature of the institution. It can spread more easily so rates are probably higher.''

Courtenay had been vaccinated against meningococcal and received prompt treat after becoming unwell last week.

"Tragically, it was not possible to save Courtenay and our thoughts and sympathy go out to her family and friends at this sad time," Humphrey said.

Ministry of Health deputy director of public health, Dr Fran McGrath said the ministry would be writing to boarding schools next month encouraging them to promote immunisation to their pupils for meningococcal disease.

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An information campaign targeting older teenagers, including university students, would kick off mid-year with the same message, she said

MENINGOCOCCAL FACTS

Ministry of Health data states there were about 100 cases of meningococcal disease in New Zealand each year.

Between five and eight people died from the disease each year between 2006 and 2010, while 13 died in 2011 and six in 2012.

Meningococcal bacteria are shared person to person by secretions from the nose or throat and can be spread through kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone.

Symptoms can include a high fever, headache, vomiting, sleepiness, a stiff neck, joint and muscle pains and a rash.

Signs of the disease can come on quickly and it can be difficult to diagnose.

It can be treated with antibiotics, but early intervention is important.

Anyone with symptoms should see their doctor immediately or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

- The Press

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