Double the average number of meningitis cases have been identified in the South this year as authorities call for vigilance following the death of an Otago Polytechnic student.

The parents of nursing student Brittany Arthur, 20, of Christchurch, are calling on Dunedin residents, particularly students, to be wary of the disease's symptoms.

Arthur died at Dunedin Hospital on Saturday from acute meningococcal meningitis.

Southern District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Marion Poore said yesterday it had identified 21 close contacts of Ms Arthur, who were at "slightly higher risk of illness", and offered them antibiotics.


Dr Poore said meningococcal disease was uncommon, but tended to occur more frequently during the winter.

There had been 14 cases notified in the SDHB area so far this year, compared to an average of seven cases a year for years 2007 to 2015.

There was no outbreak at present, as the cases notified this year were caused by a variety of groups and strains of meningococcal bacteria.

The meningococcus bacteria was present in the nose and throat of 10-20 per cent of the population and frequently passed from person to person without causing harm.

On rare occasions it could penetrate the body's defences and cause a life threatening illness.