Meningococcal disease and meningitis

Meningococcal disease is a serious infection caused by bacteria. Know the warning signs, and respond immediately if you suspect someone has this disease.

There has been an increase in meningococcal disease in New Zealand over the past few years.

Student Health recommends that students be vaccinated, particularly those living in halls of residence. From December 2019, students aged 13–25 years old who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare in New Zealand, and who are in their first year of living in tertiary halls of residence, can have the Menactra vaccine (A,C,Y,W-135) given for free. Students are encouraged to begin their immunisation cycle as soon as possible, to ensure they have coverage for the start of the academic year.

What is meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria neiserria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus. It is most common in winter and spring. There are approximately 100 cases each year in New Zealand and over half of these cases are in the under 5 age group. There are 5 strains of bacterial meningitis that cause disease in humans - A, B, C, Y and W. 70% of cases are caused by Group B.

Infection with meningococcus can rapidly lead to meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain), septicaemia (overwhelming infection of the blood) and pneumonia.

Symptoms of meningitis in an adult

Symptoms depend on the type of infection, but might include:

  • shortness of breath
  • abdominal pain
  • joint swelling
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • a rash
  • Typically in the initial stages it can mimic a flu-like illness.

    Who is most at risk?

    This infection targets young children (under 5), immunocompromised, adolescents, Māori and Pacific persons. Other risk factors including over-crowded living conditions, and hostel-type accommodation. You may also be at risk if you are in very close contact with someone who has had the disease.

    Currently New Zealand only has one fully funded meningococcal vaccine available free on the immunisation schedule - this is specifically for children and adults who are severely immunocompromised.

    Available non-funded vaccines

    For maximum protection from all 5 strains of meningococcus, we recommend Menactra and Bexsero injections, given together, then a second Bexsero a minimum of 4 weeks later. The total cost for this is approximately $325.

    • Menactra - protects against A, C, Y and W, can be given from 2 years of age. Students aged 13–25 years old and living in their first year in a tertiary hall of residence can have this vaccine funded for free—for other students this vaccine costs around $103. A single injection offers protection within weeks of the first injection and should provide at least 5 years of protection. At 5 years a further dose will renew this protection. This is a solid choice if you are thinking of travelling at some stage as it will cover strains found overseas, as well as strain C. This together with Bexsero provide the best protection available.
    • Bexsero - protects against B and can be given from 2 months of age. For adults 2 doses one month apart are recommended and protection begins within weeks of the first injection. Current evidence suggests protection lasts 7 or more years. It is unclear if further doses will be required. Each injection costs around $111

    Efficacy and risks

    These vaccines are 90-100% effective. The safety profile of these vaccines is excellent. Common side-effects are minor and include fever; pain or redness around the injection site; fatigue and malaise; irritability. Very rarely, an allergic response to the vaccine may occur, leading to anaphylaxis or a rash.

    If you wish to organise immunisation or discuss this further please book an appointment with a Nurse at Student Health by calling 04 463 5308.

    Students from out of Wellington who do not wish to register at Student Health are encouraged to contact their local general practice to discuss vaccination. Any necessary follow-up vaccinations can be carried out at Student Health.