8 Sep 2011

Half Northland meningitis cases Maori

8:24 pm on 8 September 2011

Northland Health says 50% of the meningitis cases diagnosed in the region in recent weeks have been Maori children.

Health authorities are close to declaring an outbreak of the disease, after seven cases in eight weeks, including two deaths.

Medical officer of health Clair Mills says about half the cases in Tai Tokerau since July have involved Maori infants or teenagers, but that reflects the region's high population of young Maori.

Dr Mills says Maori children were hugely over-represented in the last national epidemic of meningococcal disease.

She says that was a type B strain, while the bacteria causing the current spate of meningitis in the north is type C.

Dr Mills says the type C bug is a usually harmless bacteria commonly carried by young people, but it can turn dangerous, possibly if someone's immune system is under stress.

She says Northland Health has warned GPs and Maori Health providers to be on the alert for new cases of meningitis.