Health authorities have confirmed an 18-year-old student has been admitted to Christchurch Hospital with meningococcal disease.
National Public Health Service Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink confirmed the case this week was the third instance of meningococcal disease in Canterbury this year.
“We have identified the close contacts of the person and they have all received antibiotics, to prevent them developing meningococcal disease,” Pink said in a statement from Te Whatu Ora.
The meningococcal bacteria pass from one person to another through secretions from the nose or throat, during close or prolonged contact. The chance of anyone else catching it is low.
“Members of the same household as a person who has the disease are at the highest risk of getting it, including those living in a hall of residence or boarding schools,” Pink explained.
“It is free for those in their first year of living in halls of residence, or in boarding schools, to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease and I would strongly encourage those who are eligible to get their vaccinations for the extra protection, whether that is at your student health medical centre or general practice.”
Meningococcal disease was described by Te Whatu Ora as a fast-moving illness, which has symptoms similar to a number of other illnesses such as influenza.
“It’s a bacterial infection that can cause two very serious illnesses: Meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can affect anyone – but it’s more common in children under the age of 5, teenagers, and young adults,” Pink said.
“Up to 15 per cent of people carry the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease in their nose and throat without being sick. In some people, for reasons we don’t fully understand, these bacteria sometimes go on to cause disease, spreading through the bloodstream (causing blood poisoning) or to the brain (causing meningitis). The bacteria are spread in secretions from the nose or throat by coughing, sneezing and kissing.”
Signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease symptoms typically develop very quickly over a few hours, but in some cases may develop more slowly over several days. A person with meningococcal disease may only have some of the symptoms. The symptoms don’t develop in any particular order.
Common symptoms of meningococcal disease include:
- A fever (high temperature), although hands and feet may feel cold
- Muscle and joint aches and pains.
Common symptoms of meningitis include:
- A headache, which may be severe
- A stiff neck
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Drowsiness and confusion (being hard to wake them).
A red or purple rash is common, but it doesn’t always happen. One or two spots can appear anywhere on the body then many more appear looking like rash or bruises.
If you’re concerned that someone in your family might have meningococcal disease, call your doctor straight away or dial 111 and describe the symptoms.
In Canterbury you can call your own general practice team 24/7 and after-hours when the practice is closed.
Simply follow the instructions on the answer phone to be put through to a health professional who can provide free health advice. You can also call Healthline 0800 611 116 24/7.
If you have seen a doctor and gone home, but are still concerned, don’t hesitate to call your doctor again or seek further medical advice.