By REBECCA WALSH, health reporter

Meningococcal disease has struck Waiheke Island near Auckland for the second time in six weeks.

The first time was when baby Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman went down with the disease on June 17. She later had to have parts of her arms and legs amputated after the bug poisoned her blood.

Then on July 24, Robyn Bailey, aged 49, was diagnosed with meningitis after an emergency dash by the Westpac rescue helicopter to Auckland City Hospital.

That was five days after the start of a programme that will eventually offer to vaccinate everyone aged 6 weeks to 19 years against the epidemic of the B strain of meningococcal disease that has afflicted New Zealand since 1991.

More than 5400 people have caught the disease, which can cause either blood poisoning or meningitis. More than 220 have died and more than 1000 have suffered serious disabilities or brain damage.

Ms Bailey, from Blackpool, had a sore throat on the 24th, a Saturday night. She still felt sick on the Sunday and spent a day reading.

On the Monday morning she went to the Auckland University of Technology, where she lectures in career development, but could not get warm, felt unwell and returned to Waiheke and went to bed.

The next morning she woke about 5am with a "vicious" headache and started vomiting.

About 8.20am her partner, Susan Barker, left the house for work and to make a doctor's appointment for her.

"By 9am when she came back I was non-responsive," Ms Bailey said. "I could hear her but I couldn't respond.

"That's pretty well all I remember. She got me dressed, into the car and to the doctor."

Suspecting the worst, the GP gave Ms Bailey penicillin after calling her sister, also a doctor, to check if she was allergic.

The Westpac helicopter flew her to hospital, where doctors told her family she was extremely lucky to get the antibiotics in time.

"I feel so lucky," she said. "I'm very grateful to the three people in my life who took such prompt action.

"If they hadn't made that call and reacted really promptly then I don't know what the outcome might have been."

Ms Bailey said the possibility of meningococcal disease crossed her mind when her neck started to become stiff but she did not say anything as she thought she was being neurotic. She now advocates that people with symptoms such a headache, stiff neck and vomiting should see their doctor quickly.

Nine days after the start of her ordeal, Ms Bailey said she felt much better, although she still had some swelling and soreness in one of her leg joints.

Her hearing had been a bit muffled but had "come right" and she no longer had double vision.

She is expected to be discharged this week.

Ms Barker said although she was aware of meningococcal disease, she did not suspect it was the problem.

"It was a freak-out but you think on the positive. You can't entertain the idea of what the negative element would be.

"I had to believe she would be okay."

Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

Related information and links