Northland DHB issues meningococcal advice after teenager's death

Doctor putting on protective gloves
Photo credit: Getty

The Northland District Health Board (DHB) has issued advice about identifying meningococcal symptoms after a teenager died of the disease on Saturday.

The 16-year-old was one of 190 people who attended a St John youth camp on Motutapu Island over the weekend.  He became ill and was flown by helicopter to Auckland Hospital where he died on Saturday night.

He was a student at Kerikeri High School in Northland. Principal Elizabeth Forgie says a guidance team of counsellors spent the long weekend preparing how to look after grieving staff and students.

"Our thoughts are with [the student's] family, friends and the St John community," she told Newshub. "It's a shocking time and we're offering all our support." 

A classroom at Kerikeri has been turned into a safe space where people can go if they're feeling upset at school. 

Ms Forgie says the DHB has advised her there's no signficant risk of meningococcal to the wider community.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) travelled to the island to provide "protective antibiotics" and assess the risk to others at the camp, which was attended by children aged between eight and 18.

Only a few on the island are believed to be "close contacts" of the 16-year-old and at risk of meningococcal infection.

Northland public health nurses have spoken to the late teenager's family about who else may have been in close contact with him over the last week, which is when he would have been infectious. Those deemed at risk have been given antibiotics.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Simon Baker has offered his condolences to the young man's family as well as those who were with him on Motutapu in the days before he died.

"We acknowledge the young people, their families and the staff at the camp will also be feeling very upset and anxious," he said in a statement.

"Meningococcal disease is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, and can be difficult to diagnose."

He has provided a list of symptoms that could indicate meningococcal disease, which includes: 

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling sleepy, confused and delirious
  • Losing consciousness
  • Joint pain
  • Aching muscles
  • Stiff neck
  • Aversion to bright lights
  • Rashes, purple/red spots or bruises

Babies with meningococcal may be unsettled, floppy or irritable, refuse to eat or drink or become difficult to wake up.

"It can look like the flu early on but quickly gets much worse," Dr Baker says. "It is important to get early treatment."

It's unknown what strain of meningococcal the teenager contracted. Samples are being tested in Wellington but the results are expected to take two weeks.

Following a meningococcal B epidemic in New Zealand, a vaccination programme was offered to all babies, children and teenagers between 2004 and 2008.

Rates of the dangerous disease fell to sufficiently low levels that it was removed from the country's official immunisation schedule, and there are currently no vaccines available that protect against the strain.

Dr Baker says even people who have received meningococcal vaccinations can still contract the disease as the vaccine doesn't protect against all types of the bacteria. He advises all parents to be on the lookout for symptoms and not to wait to seek medical attention if they do notice worrying signs.

Anyone concerned about potential meningococcal symptoms is urged to visit their doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

Additional information about the disease can be found here.

Was your child at the Motutapu youth camp? Get in touch at news@newshub.co.nz 

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