Doctors, emergency departments and the general public are being urged to be on high alert after an increase in the number of people contracting the potentially deadly meningococcal disease.

So far this year six people have died from a new strand MenW – and three of those were from Northland.

The Ministry of Health has this week warned GPs and emergency departments to act swiftly if people presented with possible symptoms of meningococcal disease.

The public is also being told to familiarise themselves with the symptoms, which can initially appear like flu-like symptoms. Those with possible symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Director of Pubic Health Dr Caroline McElnay said the number of cases of meningococcal disease has risen steadily in the past in the past five years.

So far this year there have been 96 cases, and there were 112 cases last year. In 2014, there were only 45 cases.

Meningococcal disease had two strains and while group B is the most common type, there has been a sharp increase of group W (MenW) in the past year.

“We are keen to encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with the most frequent symptoms of this nasty disease because quick action can help to save lives. Meningococcal disease can progress very quickly and may initially look like other illnesses, for instance a flu-like illness.”

The warning comes as Northland District Health Board warns people about a particular strain, MenW, which has a high mortality rate and affects all age groups and is affecting Northland the worst.

So far this year here have been seven cases, and three people have died from it in Northland. Nationally there have been 24 cases so far, and six deaths.

Northland DHB medical officer of health Dr José M Ortega said a symptom of the MenW strand could also be gastro-intestinal symptoms.

“It can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses. It spreads through close intimate contact with other people. Those who live and sleep in the same house as someone with meningococcal disease are most at risk.”

“The key message is ‘if your child or family member is sick, take them to the doctor’.”

The disease could be treated with antibiotics if it was detected early enough.

Vaccines to protect against different groups of meningococcal disease – A, C, Y and W – are available at a cost.

Source: NZ Herald

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