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HealthInfo Canterbury



Meningitis can kill. Urgent treatment is essential.

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

The following video shows a family talking about their experience with meningococcal disease and meningitis.

Meningitis is inflammation of the membrane (lining) 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.

Symptoms of meningitis

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 don't develop in any particular order.

Common symptoms of meningitis include:

Common symptoms in babies include:

Risk factors for meningitis

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

Preventing meningitis

To reduce the risk of meningitis, it's important to have good hand hygiene. Also, don't share personal items such as drink bottles, eating utensils, toothbrushes and lipsticks.

Meningococcal disease is a common cause of meningitis. Several meningococcal vaccines are available in New Zealand, but they aren't free. You can pay for them privately through your GP.

The Ministry of Health funds free vaccinations for groups of people with a high risk of meningococcal disease. They also recommend but don't fund vaccinations for other groups of people. See Meningococcal disease (including meningitis) – Prevention for details.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Infectious Diseases, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed December 2018.


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Review key: HIMGD-49770