DHB stands by its menin­gi­tis se­crecy

The Northern Advocate - - Front Page - Lindy Laird

North­land District Health Board is de­fend­ing it­self against claims it kept quiet for six months, rather than warn the pub­lic about a po­ten­tially su­per-strain of meningo­coc­cal dis­ease.

Since an in-house memo was sent to hos­pi­tal staff warn­ing them to be vig­i­lant as fa­tal menin­gi­tis cases could start to come in, three North­land peo­ple have died.

The memo, sent out by the board’s mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist, David Ham­mer, in May went as far as warn­ing staff to get their own young chil­dren im­mu­nised with one of the newer vac­cines. But no gen­eral health mes­sages were made.

The memo told med­i­cal staff that in one week, two pa­tients in un­re­lated cases had what was thought to be the vir­u­lent meningo­coc­cal strain called MenW or W ST-11.

There had been a “sig­nif­i­cant rise” in meningo­coc­cus W ST-11 cases across New Zealand, the memo said.

“I sus­pect that we will be see­ing a whole lot more cases soon.”

Ham­mer’s memo noted that doc­tor-pa­tient con­duct car­ried a low risk of in­fec­tion, but the dis­ease tended to “spread rapidly through ar­eas where younger peo­ple con­gre- gate, such as schools, hos­tels, army bar­racks and univer­sity cam­puses”.

It wasn’t un­til the death of Kerik­eri’s Dion Hod­der, 16, who died in Auckland City Hos­pi­tal in Oc­to­ber, that the pub­lic be­came aware menin­gi­tis was do­ing the rounds. There have been seven cases of MenW in North­land, in­clud­ing the three deaths.

On Tuesday, the Min­istry of Health is­sued warn­ings about MenW (W ST11). The MoH said North­land had been worst af­fected to date.

The NDHB re­leased its own pub­lic mes­sage the same day.

But the board has now hit back over crit­i­cism about it not hav­ing warned the pub­lic in May.

The board said it had not wanted to alarm peo­ple, nor was it cer­tain at the time if the cases were the MenW strain.

“It is truly tragic that three peo­ple in North­land have lost their lives to this dan­ger­ous dis­ease, how­ever we ques­tion the as­ser­tions that we should have warned the pub­lic ear­lier,” a spokesper­son said in a press re­lease.

“In May we had two un­re­lated adult cases of MenW which war­ranted close mon­i­tor­ing. With­out def­i­nite in­for­ma­tion it was not ap­pro­pri­ate to alarm the com­mu­nity.

“Dr Ham­mer proac­tively raised aware­ness amongst both GPs and sec­ondary care clin­i­cians, ask­ing them to be vig­i­lant, be­cause the pre­sen­ta­tion of meningo­coc­cus tends to be more atyp­i­cal than that of other strains.

“We have con­tin­ued sur­veil­lance and mon­i­tored the dis­ease in­ci­dence [and] we are in the process of re­view­ing some his­tor­i­cal epi­demi­o­log­i­cal data on in­va­sive meningo­coc­cal dis­ease in the hope that this will in­form fu­ture de­ci­sions about our re­sponse.”

Photo / File

North­land District Health Board said it did not want to alarm the pub­lic over a rise in cases of a su­per-strain of meningo­coc­cal dis­ease.

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