Meningococcal Disease | Northland DHB

Meningococcal Disease

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection. It causes severe illness, most commonly presenting as meningitis (an infection of membranes that cover the brain) or septicaemia (blood poisoning).

The most common strains of bacteria which cause meningococcal disease in New Zealand are Group B and C. Northland had an outbreak of Group C in 2011 and Meningococcal W in 2018-19.

What are the symptoms of Meningococcal Disease?

In the early stages, the meningococcal disease may look like influenza (flu), but it can progress very quickly. It can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses. It is important to remember that not everyone will develop all the symptoms listed below and they may appear in a different order. If an individual develops some of the symptoms listed, especially red or purple spots, get medical help urgently. If you can’t get in touch with the doctor or are still worried after getting advice, trust your instincts and go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital.

In babies, the main symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • a high-pitched, moaning cry  
  • irritable when picked up  
  • a bulging fontanelle  
  • drowsy and less responsive – difficult to wake  
  • floppy and listless, or stiff with jerky movements  
  • refusing feeds, vomiting  
  • skin that is pale, blotchy or turning blue  
  • fever.

In babies, the main symptoms of septicaemia may also include:

  • rapid or unusual patterns of breathing
  • skin that is pale, blotchy or turning blue
  • fever with cold hands and feet
  • shivering
  • vomiting, refusing feeds
  • red or purple spots  
  • pain or irritability from muscle aches or severe limb/joint pain
  • floppiness
  • severe sleepiness.

In older children, adolescents and adults, the main symptoms of meningitis may include:

  • a stiff neck (check that they can kiss their knees or touch their forehead with their knees)  
  • a very bad headache
  • dislike of bright lights
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • feeling drowsy, less responsive and confused
  • a rash (red/purple)

In older children, adolescents and adults, the main symptoms of septicaemia may include:

  • sleepiness, less responsive, vacant or confused
  • severe aches and pains in the arms, legs and joints
  • very cold hands and feet
  • shivering
  • rapid breathing
  • red or purple spots
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • diarrhoea and stomach cramps.
Click here for Meningococcal W Vaccination Campaign and information
Meningococcal C Vaccination

Northland experienced an outbreak of meningococcal “C” disease in 2011. Meningococcal disease can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain) and blood poisoning (septicaemia), and can be quickly deadly. The “C” strain was uncommon in Northland up until 2011; “B” strains are more usual.

The DHB ran an emergency vaccination programme in 2011 in response to the outbreak, and over 32,000 children and youth were vaccinated with Meningitec (meningococcal C) vaccine  (73% of all those aged 1-<20years of age). Our highest coverage levels were in tamariki Māori aged 5-13 years (85%); however, for the under 5 year-olds and rangatahi aged 15-19 years, it was much lower. Teenagers are a high-risk group for this disease.

Since our emergency vaccination programme last year in 2011, we have only had one case in Northland - in an unvaccinated infant.   However, meningococcal C is still present in New Zealand.

The meningococcal C vaccine is no longer funded by the DHB but can be purchased from your GP. It is recommended for high-risk groups, including young people staying in boarding schools or hostels. Please discuss the benefits of this vaccine with your doctor or nurse.

For further information about meningococcal disease visit the Ministry of Health or IMAC websites.

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