Test first: Health caution to identify meningococcal disease strain

THE Ministry of Health and Medical Services needs to thoroughly test people who are suspected to have contracted meningococcal disease, says Fiji College of General Practitioners president Dr John Fatiaki.

Dr Fatiaki said this would help ensure the ministry purchased the exact vaccine type.

“Because there are different varieties of meningitis bacteria, there is not only one or two. You have to choose the vaccine that is specific to that particular strain,” he said.

“It’s not just one vaccine that kills all the strains and it’s no point bringing in a particular vaccine type and it doesn’t cover against the particular strain that we have.

“What they have to do is obviously identify the outbreak. They need to localise it which means they can place all the people who are getting it, they need to get the ones who are infected and have them tested at the Mataika House in Tamavua in order to identify the particular strain and once they have identified that, then they will probably ask for vaccines particularly for their specific area, the people who are at the risk of it.”

Dr Fatiaki said this was the normal approach the public health department took to prevent the spread and outbreak of this deadly disease to the wider audience.

He said every vaccine had potential side effects.

“There are always some side effects, but those are very minor compared with the benefit of preventing you getting this meningitis.

Dr Fatiaki said generally, vaccines were not given to children under two years because the safety of the vaccine in children was not proven and that the side effects were unknown.

“The infants, the aim would be obviously to keep them away from other people who may have fever or infections.

“The most important thing is, because this disease is not endemic to Fiji, it is not something for us to panic about that the entire country is going to get it. The sooner we start young treatment the better. The bottom line message is that people shouldn’t panic,” he said.

Assistant Minister for the Health Ministry Alex O’Connor said the ministry in collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO) were working on the procurement of the vaccines.

“This is a serious issue that the ministry is seeking to address with our partners, including World Health Organization,” he said.

A random check conducted by this newspaper yesterday to more than 10 pharmacies revealed that some vaccines were available, however, the availability of these vaccines were limited to few pharmacies around the country.

The MOH had declared the outbreak of the disease last Tuesday.