Meningitis symptoms similar to flu

Meningococcal disease is hitting the headlines this week after doctors missed the early signs of meningitis in a Wellington child.

The two-year-old boy is now quadriplegic, severely brain damaged and unable to hear or see after delays in recognising bacterial meningitis by several health professionals.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. It causes two very serious illnesses: meningitis (inflammation of the brain membranes) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics – but early treatment is very important.

It can be difficult to diagnose meningococcal disease because it can look like influenza (the flu) in its early stages, but it quickly gets much worse.  The symptoms and signs may not all show up at once, and the illness may develop gradually over one or two days, or much more quickly – over a few hours.

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone of any age, but babies and children under five years, teenagers and young adults are at highest risk.

There are vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease currently available in New Zealand, but they are not publicly funded for most New Zealanders. The vaccines do not protect against all types of meningococcal disease – only strains A, C, Y and W-135. There is currently no vaccine available for meningococcal B in New Zealand – but two are available in the US.

Learn more

Meningococcal disease Health Navigator 2015
Boy brain damaged after meningitis miss NZ Herald 2015
FDA approves a second vaccine to prevent serogroup B meningococcal disease U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2015