Killer disease alert

Saturday March 24, 2018 Written by Published in Health

Cook Islands authorities are keeping a close eye on border control in the wake of an outbreak of life-threatening meningococcal disease in Fiji.


The Cook Islands has previously recorded cases of the disease, which affects the brain and can cause death.

In Fiji, up to 105 people had contracted the disease since 2016 and 14.4 per cent of them died as a result. As of February 21 this year, there were already 18 cases.

No cases of meningococcal disease were recorded in the Cook Islands last year. However in 2016, two cases were reported, one each in 2014 and 2013, two in 2011 and three in 2010.

Given the number of travellers to and from Fiji, acting Community Health Services director Valentino Wichman said they were keeping a close watch at the airport and the port of Avatiu to ensure visitors and residents coming here from Fiji were cleared of meningococcal disease.

The Health ministry received regular updates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) office in Fiji, giving updates on the disease, he said.

Wichman said the ministry was monitoring the situation through its Emergency Surveillance and Response mechanism which updates on all notifiable diseases in the Pacific on a weekly basis.

“At border control, the Ministry of Health will strengthen screening of passengers coming into the country from affected countries. TV roll-on messaging at the airport will be updated to include precautionary measures around meningococcal disease,” he said.

“Our doctors and nurses are aware of the outbreak situation and will notify the public health team should cases present at the hospital.”

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria. As many as half of those affected can die if they do not seek medical treatment early.

Wichman said it was a rare, uncommon disease and could affect anyone. However, infants children and adolescence were most at risk.

“The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease is spread from person to person by close contact with respiratory secretions from an infected person,” he said.

“Meningococcal disease is more likely to spread among people living together in the same house or who have contact with a patient’s saliva (such as through kissing, sharing eating and drinking utensils, toothbrushes, cigarettes).”

Wichman said good hygiene was important to minimise the likelihood of being infected, given meningococcal disease was caused by bacteria transmitted by respiratory droplets.

“These include washing and drying hands. Avoid sharing food and drink utensils and cover your nose or mouth when you sneeze or cough. Dispose of tissues in the bin after use.”

The symptoms of meningococcal disease may not all show up at once. Signs and symptoms includes high fever or cold chills, severe headache, stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light, vomiting, confusion, and a rash may develop in the later stages.

In infants, these symptoms can be difficult to notice. Baby may appear slow or inactive, have a blank expression, appear floppy, display arching of the body or neck, and refuse to feed. Other signs include a tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the baby’s head), or a shrill or moaning cry.

“If you notice any combination of the signs and symptoms, seek medical attention immediately,” Wichman said.

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