The antibiotic ceftriaxone has replaced penicillin as the recommended first choice for health professionals providing urgent treatment for patients with suspected meningococcal disease.
Ceftriaxone has been found to be the most effective against current strains in New Zealand, including the deadly Men W strain.
If ceftriaxone is not available, penicillin still remains a treatment option but at a higher dose than previously recommended.
Testing has found that meningococcal bacteria currently found in New Zealand are more resistant to penicillin than in previous years.
GPs are being advised to give antibiotics as soon as they suspect a case of meningococcal disease, before sending a patient to hospital. Early treatment is critical because the disease can progress very quickly and can be fatal.
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says the risk of over-treatment (in this case, administering antibiotics before there is a confirmed diagnosis) is acceptable, as failure to treat may be fatal.
‘Health professionals need to be on the lookout for the disease because of an increase in cases in the past two years, particularly of the W strain,’ says Dr McElnay.
PHARMAC has widened funded access to ceftriaxone to enable its use for the treatment of suspected meningococcal disease.