Background: New Zealand is in its ninth year of a serogroup B meningococcal disease epidemic with annual rates of up to 16.9 cases per 100,000. The highest incidence is in Maori and Pacific Island children in the Auckland region. We conducted a case-control study to identify potentially modifiable risk factors for this disease.
Methods: A case-control study of 202 cases of confirmed and probable meningococcal disease in Auckland children younger than 8 years of age recruited from May, 1997, to March, 1999, was undertaken. Controls (313) were recruited door-to-door by a cluster sampling method based on starting points randomly distributed in the Auckland region. They were frequency matched with the expected distribution of age and ethnicity in the meningococcal disease cases.
Results: With the use of a multivariate model and controlling for age, ethnicity, season and socioeconomic factors, risk of disease was strongly associated with overcrowding as measured by the number of adolescent and adult (10 years or older) household members per room [odds ratio (OR), 10.7; 95% confidence interval (CI), 3.9 to 29.5]. This would result in a doubling of risk with the addition of 2 adolescents or adults to a 6-room house. Risk of disease was also associated with analgesic use by the child, which was thought to be a marker of recent illness (OR 2.4, CI 1.5 to 4.0); number of days at substantial social gatherings (10 or more people for > 4 h; OR 1.8, CI 1.2 to 2.6); number of smokers in the household (OR 1.4, CI 1.0 to 1.8); sharing an item of food, drink or a pacifier (OR 1.6, CI 1.0 to 2.7); and preceding symptoms of a respiratory infection (cough, "cold or flu," runny nose, sneezing) in a household member (OR 1.5, CI 1.0 to 2.5).
Conclusion: Some of these identified risk factors for meningococcal disease are modifiable. Measures to reduce overcrowding could have a marked effect on reducing the incidence of this disease in Auckland children.