The Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services has declared an outbreak of meningococcal disease, a potentially life threatening bacterial disease, on the island as 18 cases have been reported through mid-February this year.

Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström
Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström

According to a Fiji Sun report, in recent years Fiji has had an increase in cases of meningococcal disease. Prior to 2016, there were 1-10 cases per year reported. In 2016 there were 29 cases, and in 2017 there were 48 cases. In 2018, there have been 18 cases as of February 21st.

In 2017, 14.4 percent of all meningococcal patients in Fiji died.

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Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria present in the throat or nasal passages of about 10 percent of the general population. Most people can carry the bacteria and never become ill. The disease is not highly contagious and is transmitted through direct contact with droplets from an ill person coughing or sneezing; other discharges from the nose or throat; or by sharing of eating and drinking utensils, smoking devices; or intimate contact.

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious disease that can lead to swelling in the brain and spinal cord, loss of a limb (arm or leg), deafness, brain damage or even death. Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria known as Neisseria meningitidis. The illness most people are familiar with is meningitis. It can be spread to others through the respiratory secretions of people who carry the bacteria without symptoms in their nose and throat.