What you need to know about Meningococcal Disease.


Meningococcal Disease is an infection caused by bacteria1. It can be life threatening, so if you suspect your child may be affected you should seek medical advice immediately2.

Meningococcal Disease can lead to two very serious illnesses1,3:

Meningitis is a very serious illness where the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and the spinal cord become infected.

Septicaemia is a serious infection in the blood, sometimes called blood poisoning. More people die from septicaemia than from meningitis3.

Quick facts about Meningococcal Disease2,3,4:

  • It can be difficult to diagnose, as early symptoms can look similar to the flu.
  • It may develop slowly over one or two days, or very quickly in just a few hours.
  • Occurs most commonly in winter and spring.
  • People of any age can be affected.
  • Highest rates occur in children aged under five years and young people between 15-19 years.
  • Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, (See ‘How it is treated’ below)

How is it spread?2

The disease is easily passed from one person to another. The bacteria may be spread through:

  • Close contact with infected people living in the same household.
  • Through sharing food and drink.
  • When someone with the illness coughs or sneezes.

How can you prevent it?3

The bacteria don’t survive for long outside the body, so basic steps in hygiene will help to prevent it passing between people. To reduce the chance of spreading bacteria, be sure you and your children cover your noses and mouths when you sneeze or cough, and wash and dry your hands regularly.

Signs and Symptoms2,4

It is important to be aware of the symptoms as they can look like the flu, or any other viral illness. The symptoms may appear in any order, and some may not appear at all.

Babies and younger children
may have the following:

Older children may experience:

Fever (but may have cold hands and feet) Headache
Crying or unsettled Fever
Refusing drinks or feeds Vomiting
Vomiting Joint pain and aching muscles
Sleepy, floppy or difficult to wake Neck stiffness
Rash (see below) Drowsiness and confusion
Dislike of bright lights Loss of consciousness
Neck stiffness Rash (see below)
  Discomfort looking at bright
lights (photophobia)



A rash consisting of reddish-purple pinprick spots or bruises that don’t disappear when you press them is very distinctive for Meningococcal Disease. If you notice a rash like this anywhere on your child’s body, call an ambulance immediately. Do note, that the rash is only present in approximately one in three people with meningococcal disease, so do not wait for it to appear before getting medical help.

How is it treated?2

Meningococcal Disease can be treated with antibiotics. Early treatment is very important. Your child may require hospitalisation and other medications to treat the complications of the disease. There are vaccines available for some types of the disease. You may want to talk with your doctor or nurse about these.

When should I get help?2

The earlier your child receives treatment, the better the outcome. So always see your doctor quickly if you suspect that your child has Meningococcal Disease.

If you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms but not sure what to do, call your doctor. If it’s after hours, call Health Line on 0800 611 116. If it’s an emergency, call 111 and ask for an ambulance.

References: 1. Meningococcal disease: Always consider in a patient with flu-like illness. BJP Issue 59 March 2014. 2. www.kidshealth.org.nz/meningococcal-disease/ accessed April 2016. 3. Meningococcal Disease. Know the symptoms. Health Promotion Agency Brochure Code HE2395. February 2013. 2/2014. 4. www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/m/meningococcal-disease/ accessed April 2016. Pamol® is for the treatment of children’s pain and fever. Pamol® suspensions contain paracetamol 250mg/5mL. Always read the label and use as directed. If symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. Incorrect use can be harmful. ® Registered Trademark. Aspen Pharmacare C/- Healthcare Logistics, Auckland. TAPS PP8079-MY16.