Understanding meningococcal

Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

THE revelation that the Seventh-day Adventist Church confirmed an outbreak of meningococcal disease at a high school in Wainibuka, Tailevu will no doubt be greeted with some concern.

Regional education director Beverley Norman said as a result, the school was closed until further notice.

He said the school was now working with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Ministry of Education to address the outbreak.

Four students of Navesau Adventist High School are admitted in hospital with meningococcal.

A four-member team from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Central Outbreak Response Team have camped at the Navesau Adventist High School since last week after students became ill.

Yesterday the team led by Doctor Penasio Rounds was compiling reports to be submitted to the Ministry of Health after more than 300 students were treated with antibiotics.

Students and staff members of the school, we have been told, have been receiving antibiotics twice a day since last week when a girl became ill and was showing symptoms of the life-threatening disease.

By yesterday, four students of the school were believed to have contracted the disease, with one in critical condition and three in stable condition.

The turn of events will raise many questions.

The World Health Organization said the most important thing that children and students could do to protect themselves is to know the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and to tell their parents, guardians, teacher or elder immediately if they were feeling unwell with the symptoms.

The WHO said it was important to remember that not everyone who had the bacteria would get the disease. During an outbreak, between 10-25 per cent of the general population will carry the bacteria at the back of their nose and mouth from time to time, but will not have any symptoms.

While the disease is uncommon, it said, it can affect anyone.

There is, however, a higher risk for babies, children and young adults.

Now that we know that back in 2016 figures were already available, why wasn’t there a concerted effort made to create awareness? Prior to 2016, there were 1-10 cases per year reported. In 2016, there were 29 cases and this rose to 48 cases in 2017. As of February 21 this year, 18 cases were reported.

There will be questions about policy issues and public health.

There will be questions about how well-prepared our health system is for this outbreak.

There will be attention focused on health workers and the resources at their disposal to deal with this frightening disease as well as protect themselves.

Right now, it is critically important that we are aware of symptoms of meningococcal disease. Early detection is important.

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