Ministry of Health Media Release on behalf of Public Health South
23 August 2002
School Vaccinations Successful
South Otago High School students have responded calmly and responsibly to the two-day vaccination programme to help
control the spread of the group C meningococcal disease outbreak in Balclutha, Medical Officer of Health Dr John Holmes
"Over the past two days we have vaccinated 403 students and 40 staff at the high school. The school has a roll of 439.
"This has been a worrying time for these students, yet they have behaved responsibly and calmly during the public health
emergency. I cannot emphasise enough how impressed I have been with their understanding of the situation and how willing
they have been to learn about the disease, its symptoms and how best to control its spread.
"We are also grateful to the staff of South Otago High School and Rosebank Primary School for the way in which they
coped with the major disruption to their school routine."
Dr Holmes said a team of 20 health professionals, including public health nurses trained in vaccination, administered
about 450 vaccinations in the school library today and yesterday.
"The vaccine will take between seven and 10 days to build up in immunity in the body and will then protect that person
for the next three years."
Dr Holmes said the vaccination programme would help allay the fears of Balclutha families and he was pleased so many
students had received the relatively painless injection.
Dr Holmes said there was a small number of students who had not been vaccinated. Any students who may have been away
over the past two days through illness, sports trips or other reasons will be offered the vaccine on Wednesday.
"We have also received five declined vaccination consent forms. The decision by those involved not to receive the
vaccine has been respected."
Since the first case of meningococcal disease was notified on Sunday 11 August there have been six cases of group C
meningococcal disease confirmed.
The 0800 number set up for anyone wanting more information on the disease and how it is to be managed received 122
Dr Holmes said the situation in Balclutha would continue to be closely monitored.
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, cigarettes, chewing gum
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.