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Outbreak of pneumococcal disease in shipyards in Vestnes


Pneumococci. CDC.

Since January 2019, nine workers in the shipbuilding industry in Møre og Romsdal have been hospitalised with severe pneumococcal disease. These infections were caused by the same bacterial strain.

The patients have now been successfully treated and discharged from hospital. In addition, six unconfirmed cases that may be related to the outbreak have been reported.

Pneumococcal bacteria are commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy individuals. The bacteria generally cause mild infections, such as ear and sinus infections. However, in some cases, the bacteria can cause serious illness, such as pneumonia, meningitis or sepsis.

Welders and laboratory personnel have an increased risk of developing pneumococcal disease. Working environments where many people work together in confined spaces or with poor ventilation can increase the risk of infection and disease. It is also possible that the bacterial strain detected in this outbreak is more easily transmitted or more likely to cause disease than other pneumococcal bacteria.

"We know that certain types of work can lead to an increased risk of serious pneumococcal disease, and we are aware that there has been a similar outbreak in Europe previously," says Didrik Vestrheim, Department Director  at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is assisting the Municipal Health Services with advice on infection control and vaccination. The Municipal Health Services and Norwegian Institute of Public Health are also co-operating with the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority. In response to the outbreak, the pneumococcal vaccine is being offered to affected workers with resources provided by the employer.

Local health authorities and the shipyard management have initiated information campaigns and are preparing to offer the vaccine to employees. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has developed information letters about the outbreak and pneumococcal vaccine in Norwegian, English, Polish and Italian. These have been provided to the shipyard management and the Municipal Health Service to support the outbreak response. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is currently processing the request for the pneumococcal vaccine, which was received on 3 April 2019.

There is no indication that the general population, or people who are not exposed through the working environment, are at increased risk of pneumococcal disease. For these groups, general advice on pneumococcal vaccination applies.

In Norway, all children are offered the pneumococcal vaccine through the childhood vaccination program. After the vaccine was introduced in 2006, a decrease in severe pneumococcal disease has been observed in all age groups. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends vaccination against pneumococci for anyone who is 65 or older and all others with known risk factors.