Tests delay killer bug alert

A wait for laboratory results and privacy concerns were the main reasons it took Northland health officials more than two weeks to inform the public that a toddler died from meningococcal disease hours after being seen by a GP.

An investigation has been launched into the death of the 14-month-old girl from the Bay of Islands area on October 15, with the outcome likely to be released next week.

Northland District Health Board (NDHB) medical officer of health Jonathan Jarman said the child became unwell on October 14 and was taken to the after-hours GP service operated by the Te Tai Tokerau Primary Health Organisation at Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa.

The child died from the Meningococcal B strain, not the Meningococcal C strain that killed three people in Northland last year. They included Whangarei 18-year-old Ben Brown, who died after being twice sent home by medics at Whangarei Hospital.

Meningitis is a notifiable disease and Dr Jarman said the DHB had to await the outcome of laboratory tests to confirm it was meningococcal, and what strain, before details could be made public.

He said there were also concerns that releasing some information could identify the family and that could lead to privacy issues.

Dr Jarman met with the girl's family, and said it is one of the saddest cases he has seen and the DHB had to ensure it did not add to the family's stress or trauma by breaching its privacy.

He said meningococcal disease was a very unpredictable disease, with Northland GPs seeing hundreds of children with flu-like symptoms. Meningococcal looks like the flu or a tummy bug in its early stages and it is important that parents seek medical advice if their child becomes unwell.

 "This case was an example of how quickly meningococcal disease can progress. If your child is sick take them to the doctor. And if they don't get better or if you are worried, go back to the doctor."

There have been no new cases in Northland since the child's death. For more information talk to medics, a medical centre, or contact the public health service. For free advice after hours (24 hours) phone Healthline 0800 611116.

- By Mike Dinsdale of The Northern Advocate

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