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Figi Fudging the Figures on Meningitis

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    Posted: April 23 2018 at 10:36am

Fiji downplays risk of dangerous disease outbreak

TOURISTS should be aware of a potentially deadly health scare in Fiji — even though authorities are downplaying it.

April 23, 20188:49pm
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FIJI reckons enough Australians have been vaccinated against deadly meningococcal disease that there’s no need raise our alarm about a dangerous outbreak that has seen 34 cases in the first three months of the year.

Fiji’s Ministry of Health has declared an outbreak of meningococcal C, which has already forced the closure of a high school in Tailevu, near the capital Suva, after nine students were infected.

The total number of meningococcal cases is on the rise each year in Fiji and local authorities are especially concerned because of the disease’s high death rate.

But when it comes to tourists, it seems they’re not as worried.

Faced with questions over the potential impact of the outbreak on tourism, Fiji’s acting prime minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum downplayed the need to warn Australian holiday-makers — because we’re probably all vaccinated anyway.

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“In 2003 Australia had a [meningococcal C] vaccine on its national immunisation schedule for all children from the age of one,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum told Fiji’s national parliament.

“From 2003 to 2006 they had a vaccination program for everyone from the ages of one and nine.

“Therefore ... Australian visitors who have had the vaccine obviously would have low risk of actually catching meningococcal when they visit Fiji.”

Vaccines for meningococcal C are available for free to children aged 12 months in Australia and vaccines for other meningococcal types will also be available through the National Immunisation Program this year.

About 67 per cent of foreign arrivals in Fiji are from Australia and New Zealand, Fiji One News reported. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the meningococcal outbreak in Fiji “has not had an impact on our tourism arrivals”.

“We should not go into alarm mode,” he added. “We need to create more awareness about it and how it is spread.”

Meningococcal disease is a rare infection that occurs when bacteria from the throat or nose invades the body. It can cause death within hours.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated its travel advice to Fiji after the health ministry announced an outbreak in March.

“Symptoms include high fever, sensitivity to light or nausea,” the department has warned travellers. “Seek urgent medical advice if symptoms persist.”

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The warning comes as a Perth man urged Australians to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease after it caused him to lose his hands and feet, and almost cost him his life, after he fell sick with it on Boxing Day.

Jake Clift, 28, thought he had come down with gastro but within hours he was covered in a purple rash and his organs were failing due to meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. He put in an induced coma in hospital and wasn’t expected to survive the night.

While Mr Clift did wake up on January 5, the disease had ravaged his body so much, doctors had to amputate his hands and legs 15 centimetres below his knee.

The father-of-two told Seven News the disease developed with such alarming speed he and his family wanted to send a message to the community to “get vaccinated”.

“Just make sure you get the [vaccination] needle because it comes fast,” he said.

“I used to think, just don’t share drink bottles. I thought that was the only way you can get it.”

Meningococcal C was the most prevalent strain of the disease in Australia until the vaccine was introduced in 2003. The Y and W strains have seen increased numbers in Australia over the past few years, Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said.

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