IM this article to a friend!

October 14, 2002

Bay teen dies 48 hours after meningitis strikes

From: Northland Age, New Zealand
Oct. 14, 2002

15.10.2002 - BOP Times

By ALISON BROWN in Rotorua

A 19-year-old Bay of Plenty woman has died within 48 hours of becoming ill with meningitis.

The death of Rotorua woman Avril Jade Herkt is the second from meningococcal disease this year and has prompted the Bay of Plenty's medical officer of health, Phil Shoemack, to urge anyone experiencing possible symptoms to see a doctor immediately.

Miss Herkt began vomiting last Wednesday. She went to the doctor and was given antibiotics but didn't feel any better.

She took Thursday off work from her job at Davys Burton to recover but when she worsened, saw a doctor again. On Friday she was sent to Waikato Hospital but she died that afternoon.

Earlier this year, a child in the Bay of Plenty also died from meningococcal disease.

Dr Shoemack said both cases were examples of just how fast the disease could develop.

So far this year there have been 84 cases of the potentially fatal disease in the Bay of Plenty _ 12 cases more than the whole of last year. Half have been in Rotorua and Taupo.

Dr Shoemack said the Bay of Plenty was reporting more cases than other parts of the country but there was no simple explanation.

The disease is common in babies and children under five but can occur in any age group.

Symptoms can be mistaken for influenza and include fever, severe headaches, vomiting, drowsiness, muscular aches and pains and a stiff neck.

One of the more unusual symptoms is a rash that can appear on arms, legs and the upper body.

``The rash may not occur but if it does, it's usually very late in the illness,'' Dr Shoemack said.

He said what set the disease apart from other illnesses was the speed in which symptoms progressed.

``The disease can kill within hours.''

The main message for people was to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

``Don't hesitate in seeking treatment. You won't be criticised for going to your doctor if you suspect it could be meningitis, only to be told it's something else,'' he said.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid of the spinal cord and fluid surrounding the brain. It can be caused by a virus or bacterium.

Viral meningitis is less severe, while bacterial meningitis can cause brain damage, hearing loss, learning disability or death.

One in 10 people carry the bug that causes meningococcal disease in their saliva.

That has lead to the assumption that it could be spread through direct contact with saliva and is why health officials warn people not to share food, eating utensils, drinks or cigarettes.

Nationally, there have been 464 notified cases of meningitis so far this year, with 13 deaths. At the same time last year, 469 cases had been reported, with 22 resulting in death. New Zealand is in the 11th year of an epidemic expected to last another decade. The Ministry of Health is to trial a new vaccine next year.

© 2002 Wilson and Horton