Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes 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. People living in group accommodation can also be at higher risk.

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis as it can develop quickly. It can be treated with antibiotics, but early treatment is very important.

If you notice any of the symptoms of meningitis, seek immediate medical advice.

The bacteria passes from person to person through secretions from the nose or throat, for example by coughing or sneezing, by kissing, or by sharing eating utensils, toothbrushes or pacifiers (babies’ dummies).

It can be difficult to recognise meningococcal disease because it can look like other illnesses, such as the flu.

Symptoms can develop suddenly and include:

  • a high fever
  • headache
  • sleepiness
  • joint and muscle pain
  • a stiff neck
  • dislike of bright lights
  • vomiting
  • a rash of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises
  • crying and refusal to eat in infants.

If you notice any of the symptoms of meningococcal disease, seek immediate medical advice.

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

Although, meningococcal disease can affect anyone, teenagers and young adults living closely with others (eg, in boarding schools or university halls of residence), are at high risk and should be vaccinated to protect against meningococcal disease. 

  • Menactra® is free for people aged 13 to 25 years who, within the next 3 months will be living, or are in the first year of living in:
    • boarding school hostel
    • university hall of residence
    • military barracks
    • prison.
  • Menactra, NeisVac-C and Bexsero are free for people who have low immunity from certain medical conditions, or if they are a close contact of a meningitis case.

Meningococcal vaccines help protect you for up to 5 years. Talk to your healthcare provider if your last one was more than 5 years ago. 

For more information about getting immunised against meningococcal disease talk to your doctor, nurse or health centre or phone Healthline’s 24-hour service on 0800 611 116.

Meningococcal disease is notifiable. This means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it. Our nurses can then identify and speak to the people you have been in close contact with. Depending on where and when you were in contact with them, they may be offered prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics and/or health advice.  

If you are in the greater Auckland region, and are concerned you have had close contact with someone who has recently had meningococcal disease, call Auckland Regional Public Health Service on (09) 623 4600.


There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

read-more READ MORE

Auckland public health experts are closely monitoring cases of meningococcal disease in the region, with a national alert and an outbreak of Men W in Northland.


Members of the public and health professionals are asked to be vigilant for suspected meningococcal disease, with a rise in the number of group W cases (also known as Men...


Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has sent staff to a Motutapu Island camp to provide protective antibiotics and assess the risk to others after a young man attending the...


Last updated 22.11.2022

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
MENU menu-arrow
health topics