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SYDNEY, Australia (January 26, 2002 - Sydney Morning Herald/PINA Nius Online, 26 January 2002) - An urgent health alert has been issued to more than 1,500 people who were on a Pacific cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

It comes after an outbreak of the meningococcal disease killed one man and left another in intensive care, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

The newspaper said the two were on a nine-night cruise aboard the P&O cruise ship Pacific Sky, which arrived back in Sydney last week after visiting three ports in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The acting chief health officer for New South Wales, Greg Stewart, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "It is impossible to know exactly where meningococcal disease is contracted, but it is most likely both cases were contracted on the ship."

Meningococcal disease, while rare, is particularly dangerous because people can die within hours of showing symptoms of it. The incubation period is usually three to four days, but can be up to 10 days.

Dr. Stewart said past outbreaks had occurred among groups of people who are in close contact, notably at schools. It was not known why one person contracts the disease and another does not.

Possible symptoms of the disease include sudden headaches or tiredness, lethargy, sore joints and, in the later stages, a rash, sensitivity to light or sore eyes. There is a risk of transfer through activities such as kissing and sharing drinks or cigarettes.

P&O Cruises told the Sydney Morning Herald it was cooperating with health authorities and said staff would be contacting the 1,566 passengers who were on the cruise.

P&O brought the Pacific Sky to Sydney in 2000 to replace the Fair Princess, which coincidentally had been dogged by publicity about illness on board.

In August that year, five people were hospitalized in Nouméa during a cruise and five in Sydney after it. A doctor in Nouméa diagnosed two of the patients as being positive to legionella but testing by NSW Health of 150 passengers and crew found no evidence of legionnaire's disease.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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