Meningococcal Disease | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

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.

Main symptoms 

In babies:

  • 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 older children, adolescents and adults:

  • 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)

Main symptoms of septicaemia 

In babies:

  • 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:

  • 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.

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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