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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini


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Meningitis can kill. Urgent treatment is essential.

If you think that you or your tamaiti (child) has the symptoms listed below, seek urgent medical attention.

Mother comforts a sick child with a feverMeningitis is inflammation of the lining (membrane) around the brain and spinal cord. It's usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection.

The bacteria or virus infects the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This causes swelling and inflammation of the lining.

Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can be life-threatening. It needs immediate medical attention. Several types of bacteria can cause bacterial meningitis. The most common type is the meningococcal bacteria.

Viral meningitis is more common but less severe than bacterial meningitis.

Other less common causes of meningitis include parasitic and fungal infections.

It's important that doctors know what has caused the meningitis since the treatments differ depending on the cause.

Risk factors for meningitis

Anyone can get meningitis but it's more common in:

Symptoms of meningitis

Meningitis can kill. If you think that you or your tamaiti (child) has the symptoms listed below, seek urgent medical attention.

Meningitis symptoms can develop slowly over several days or very quickly over a few hours. A person with meningitis may only have some of the symptoms. The symptoms do not develop in any particular order.

Common symptoms of meningitis include:

Common symptoms in pēpi include:

Treating meningitis

The treatment will depend on the cause of the infection and how severe it is. If the cause is bacterial meningitis, it will be treated with high-dose antibiotics.

Preventing meningitis

To reduce the risk of meningitis, make sure you have good hand hygiene. Also, do not share personal items such as drink bottles, eating utensils, toothbrushes and lipsticks.

There are some vaccines available for the bacteria and viruses that can cause meningitis.

Meningococcal disease is a common cause of meningitis. Several meningococcal vaccines are available in New Zealand. The meningococcal B vaccine is offered to all children under 5 years as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

Free vaccinations are available for groups of people with a high risk of meningococcal disease. This includes young people aged 13 to 25 entering communal accommodation such as boarding school hostels, tertiary education halls of residence, military barracks and prisons. They also recommend but do not fund vaccinations for other groups of people. See Immunisation against meningococcal disease for details.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


Page reference: 49770

Review key: HIMGD-49770