Ministry of Health Media Release on behalf of Public Health South
20 August 2002
Three hundred attend Balclutha Meningococcal meeting
More than 300 Balclutha parents attended a meeting at South Otago High School last night to learn about group C
meningococcal disease and what steps health professionals are taking in an effort to prevent further cases.
Medical Officer of Health Dr John Holmes said he was pleased with the turnout.
"As well as explaining the nature of the disease, how it is spread, and what symptoms to be on the look out for, parents
also had a chance to learn about the antibiotics students at South Otago High School and Rosebank Primary School are
"I also talked to them about the group C meningococcal vaccine that will be offered to high school students later this
Dr Holmes said he was impressed with the level of understanding in the community.
"This is a scary time for the people of Balclutha. They asked many searching questions about all aspects of the disease,
its outbreak and how we are managing it.
"The situation in Balclutha is being closely monitored and we will reassess our decisions if more cases of group C
meningococcal disease are confirmed."
So far, three students at South Otago High School have been confirmed as having group C meningococcal disease. Another
student, and two at Rosebank Primary School have meningococcal disease, but health officials have not yet had laboratory
confirmation of the type.
Dr Holmes said all the students at South Otago High School and Rosebank Primary School are being treated with
antibiotics this week to help prevent the spread of the disease.
"People who have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the meningococcal disease have an
increased risk of developing the disease themselves. Antibiotics in the form of a tablet or syrup can kill the
meningococcal organism if people are carrying it."
South Otago High School students will take a consent form home today so they can receive the group C meningococcal
disease vaccine this Thursday or Friday.
Vaccine has been sent from manufacturers in Australia and Belgium and is expected to arrive in Dunedin this morning.
The vaccine would take between seven and 10 days to build up immunity in the body. It would then protect that person for
up to three years.
Consent for the precautionary antibiotics and vaccination must be obtained for people under 16 years of age from a
parent or caregiver.
Students will be vaccinated only when they produce a consent form which can then be verified. Parents or caregivers of
students over the age of 16 are encouraged to give their consent, however, those students will be able to give consent
There will be a meeting for Rosebank Primary School parents 7pm at the school tonight.
Anyone in the South Otago region wanting more information on the disease and how it is to be managed can ring 0800 153
020 between 8am and 8pm.
This media release has been distributed by the Ministry of Health on behalf of Public Health South. For more information
contact: For more information contact: Hayley Brock Media Advisor Ministry of Health (04) 496 2115, 025 495 989
What is meningococcal disease? Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by a bacterium (germ)
Neisseria meningitidis, known as a meningococcus. It usually affects the membrane around the brain (meningitis) or the
blood (blood poisoning). It is a serious disease and can sometimes cause death or permanent disability such as deafness.
Can meningococcal disease be treated? Yes. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics. It is very important
that antibiotic treatment is started early. However, even with treatment, death, disfigurement and disability can still
Can meningococcal disease be prevented? The spread of meningococcal disease from person to person can be prevented once
the disease has been identified and close contacts of that person are given antibiotics to clear the organism from their
Some forms of meningococcal disease can be prevented by vaccine. Vaccines effective against meningococcal groups A, C, Y
and W135 are currently licensed for use in New Zealand. Outbreaks of group A and C meningococcal disease have been
successfully controlled by immunisation programmes. At present the type of meningococcal disease causing the majority of
cases in New Zealand is a strain of group B.
How is meningococcal disease spread? The bacteria (meningococci) can be spread by close contact with someone who is
Close contact means: Living in the same household Sleeping in the same room Attending the same pre-school (for more than
just a few hours a week) Sharing food, drink or utensils Kissing Sharing spit ? from whistles, chewing gum etc.
People often carry the meningococcal bacteria harmlessly in their nose and throat without getting ill. As many as two
people in every 10 may carry the bacteria (meningococci) in their throats. This figure can sometimes be as high as five
in every 10 in specific communities.
NB: Meningococcal disease cannot be caught by putting your head under the water in hot pools found in New Zealand.
Amoebic meningitis may occur after exposure to a different organism from that which causes meningococcal disease.
Why do only some people get sick with meningococcal disease? Meningococci bacteria are often present in many people
without causing disease, but on rare occasions they penetrate the defences of the lining of the throat to cause an
invasive life-threatening illness. The reasons why this occurs in one person and not another is unclear.
Invasive disease is more common in infants and young adults, and appears to occur in the first few days of exposure of a
susceptible person, after which immunity develops. In children the illness may be very nonspecific however it may
quickly become life threatening. This is why it is most important to recognize the early signs of meningococcal disease
and to take appropriate action.