Media Release: Meningococcal Disease Outbreak, 21 March 2018

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has declared an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Fiji. Meningococcal disease is a life-threating disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. It can cause infections in the lining of the brain (meningitis) and in the blood (meningococcemia), or both. These conditions are very serious and can be deadly, but can be treated if detected early.

Identifying symptoms early and seeking urgent medical treatment at a health facility is critical, and will give a person the best chance of survival. Meningococcal disease can only be treated at a health facility with antibiotic medication (medicines that kills bacteria in the body) specifically used for this disease. People with meningococcal disease will be admitted to hospital.

Over recent years Fiji has had an increase in cases of meningococcal disease. Prior to 2016, there were 1-10 cases per year reported. In 2016 there were 29 cases, and in 2017 there were 48 cases. In 2018, there have been 18 cases as of February 21st .

Even with the recent increase in cases, meningococcal disease remains uncommon in Fiji. However, this disease has a high death rate. According to the WHO, without appropriate medical treatment, up to 50% of people who get the disease will die. Most people who get the disease, and are treated appropriately, will recover fully, however 10-15% will still die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities, including severe brain damage.

In 2017, 14.4% of all people who had meningococcal disease in Fiji died. To put this in context, the death rate for dengue fever in Fiji is 0.4-0.6% annually, even during outbreaks.

This is why the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is taking nation-wide action.

The meningococcal disease bacteria are not easily transmitted but are spread from person to person via transfer of saliva or spit. This can happen when a person with the bacteria coughs on an uninfected person, or deeply kisses an uninfected person on the mouth. It may also be spread through sharing of drinks from the same glass/cup, water bottle or bowl e.g. kava or taki alcohol at nightclub. Babies and children under the age of 5 frequently put things into their mouths, therefore they are also at risk of getting the bacteria.

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