Meningococcal Press Release No.1 (4th February 2021)

News and Press Release
Originally published


The Ministry of Health would like to inform the public that a case of meningococcal meningitis has been notified in Port Vila to the national disease surveillance system.

On January 28th , 2021, one case of meningococcal meningitis has been confirmed by laboratory testing with a 31 year-old woman who resides in Port Vila.

The Ministry of health has conducted a follow-up visit to the patient’s family home and work place and all direct contacts have been treated preventively by antibiotics.

VCH Physicians confirm the patient has been treated by antibiotics and is recovering well. Refresher trainings will be conducted for health workers in health facilities in Efate and enhanced surveillance of the disease is being put in place.

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicemia (blood poisoning).

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. Five to ten per cent of patients with meningococcal disease die, even despite rapid treatment. Up to 50 per cent of untreated patients with meningococcal disease can die of the disease.

Meningococcal disease is caused by infection with Neisseria meningitidis.

Between 5 and 25 per cent of people carry meningococcal bacteria at the back of the nose and throat without showing any illness or symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of meningococcal disease are non-specific but may include sudden onset of fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, a rash of red-purple spots or bruises, dislike of bright lights nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms start between 2-10 days (commonly 3-4 days) after close contact with an infectious patient or carrier of the meningococcal bacteria.

Young children may have less specific symptoms. These may include irritability, difficulty waking, high-pitched crying, poor muscle tone (“floppy baby”), and refusal to eat.

The typical meningococcal rash doesn't disappear with gentle pressure on the skin. Not all people with meningococcal disease get a rash or the rash may occur late in the disease.

People who have symptoms of meningococcal disease should see a doctor urgently, especially if there is persistent fever, irritability, drowsiness, or a child is not feeding normally.

How is it transmitted?

Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person to person and the bacteria do not survive well outside the human body.

The bacteria are passed between people in the secretions from the back of the nose and throat.

This generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria who is completely well. An example of ‘close’ contact is living in the same household or intimate (deep) kissing.

Who is at risk?

While the disease can affect anyone, those at higher risk include:

  • Household contacts of patients with meningococcal disease who lived in the same house or dormitory-type room in the 7 days before the onset of illness in the patient, and until s/he has completed 24 hours of appropriate antibiotic treatment

  • Institutional contacts that are household-like contacts (for example, live-in boarders at schools).

  • Infants, small children, adolescents and young adults People who practice intimate (deep mouth) kissing with more than one partner. People who are exposed to cigarette smoke and people who are exposed to smokers

  • Travelers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease How is meningococcal disease treated?

Patients with meningococcal disease need urgent treatment with antibiotics. Treatment is usually started before the diagnosis is confirmed by test.

How is meningococcal disease prevented?

Maintaining good hygiene at all times is key to stopping the spread of meningococcal disease.

Good hygiene practices include:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer, especially after coughing or sneezing. Regular and hygiene prevents a variety of infectious disease from spreading

  • Covering the mouth and nose with tissue or handkerchief when coughing and sneezing. If a tissue is not available, coughing or sneezing into the upper sleeve or elbow rather than the hand helps to stop contaminating the hand and transferring the bacteria

  • Safely disposing of tissues in the bin and washing soiled handkerchief daily with soap and water

  • Not sharing cups, water bottles, kava, other utensils, cigarettes and others items that may be contaminated with saliva.

  • Overcrowding of people in certain settings should be avoided.