You've probably seen the ads on TV, and no doubt read the warning signs on the cover of your child's Well Health book, but it is important to be continually aware of meningitis as it progresses very quickly and can be fatal in a very short time.
New Zealand had an epidemic of meningococcal disease in the early 2000s, it was particularly prevalent in Pacific Island and Maori communities, and most often affected children aged under 5, young people aged between 14-2 and people over the age of 55.
In babies and young children, the early symptoms of meningitis may present similarly to those of a less serious viral illness such as a cold: fever; drowsiness; aches and pains; refusing feeds/fluids; headaches and vomiting. Most children who present with these symptoms do NOT have meningitis, but a small percentage of these children may, so if you feel something is not right with your child it is important to take him or her to the doctor or hospital straight away. Prompt antibiotic treatment is the best way to fight meningococcal disease.
The most recognisable symptom of meningitis is the rash which occurs after the onset of initial symptoms. This rash is called meningococcal septicemia and may begin as a rash of tiny pink spots which gradually become darker and take on a blue/purple appearance. By the time this rash appears, the disease is in its later stages. It is important to remember that meningitis is a disease which moves very quickly - your child can go from being perfectly well to being dangerously ill in the space of just a few short hours.
Meningococcal disease is most commonly spread by sharing saliva on eating utensils, food, drink bottles, by kissing or other close contact, and there have been large education campaigns aimed at teaching children not to share drink bottles and other items which may spread saliva.
In response to the meningococcal epidemic, the government has made the MenzB immunisation available free to all New Zealanders under the age of 20. A catch-up program was run in schools several years ago to immunize older children/young people and the immunisation is now included in the standard immunisation schedule for New Zealand babies. Your baby will receive one dose with his/her 6 week immunisations, one with his/her 3 month immunisations, one with his/her 5 month immunisations, and a final fourth dose at around 10 months of age. Your GP or Well Child provider will be able to give you more information on the MenzB immunisation.