Two purple footprints on a pink piece of paper are at the centre of a colourful wall of artwork and school certificates.

The small footprints belong to 7-year-old Alexis Albert and the wall of the Hikurangi home celebrates the achievements and life of a young girl who died of meningococcal disease in July.

The death is still raw for the family but, through tears, mum Rowshae Albert is clear about the message she wants other Northland parents to hear.

"Don't hesitate, you don't have time. If your child is complaining of a headache and a stiff neck take them to the doctor or hospital as soon as possible," the mother of four urged.


"Tell the doctors you want them tested for meningococcal. Kids are just so vulnerable."

As the 32-year-old stroked a lock of Alexis' black hair kept in a memory book prepared for the family by nurses at Starship, she said she wished Northland health authorities had issued early warnings about the rise of the disease in the region.

"I lost my baby and that might have been prevented if they had alerted the community and warned people of the signs and that meningococcal was possibly on the rise.

"We could have been more aware and maybe taken the symptoms more seriously. My baby could possibly still be here."

Northland District Health Board defended itself against claims it kept quiet for six months, rather than warn the public about a potential super-strain of the meningococcal disease.

Alexis Albert loved netball and had earned a number of
Alexis Albert loved netball and had earned a number of "Player of the Day" awards. Photo / Supplied

An in-house memo was sent out by the board's microbiologist, David Hammer, in May and warned staff to get their own young children immunised with one of the newer vaccines.

The memo told medical staff that in one week, two patients in unrelated cases had what was thought to be the virulent meningococcal strain called MenW or W ST-11. But no general health messages were made to the community and since then three Northland people had died, including Alexis.

The number of cases of W meningococcal disease has doubled in the past 12 months. There have been 24 cases nationwide this year and six deaths, half of those deaths in Northland.


Albert said more education was needed for parents around the symptoms of the disease and about vaccinations.

"I think it's important for families in Northland to be on alert with children at all times and I don't want another family to go through what we have, especially if it can be prevented with vaccines.

"It's been a huge storm for me and my family. We're still coming to terms with losing our baby but we are getting stronger and gaining strength. So many people in the community have helped us, it's been amazing."

In July, Alexis came home complaining of a headache. It was the middle of winter and there were plenty of colds and bugs flying around at school.

Alexis had just recovered from a tummy bug a few weeks earlier.

Albert hydrated her daughter, gave her paracetamol and kept her home from school. Two days later the youngster started vomiting and had diarrhoea.

The next morning, Albert noticed bruising on Alexis' face and back and knew something was seriously wrong. She rushed her to Whangārei Hospital.

Rowshae Albert says her daughter Alexis was a talented artist. Photo / Tania Whyte
Rowshae Albert says her daughter Alexis was a talented artist. Photo / Tania Whyte

"I carried her in my arms and the doctors straight away said it was meningococcal."

Alexis was flown to Starship Hospital, with her mother watching as her daughter deteriorated quickly.

"It happened so fast," Albert said, breaking down in tears.

The disease "engulfed" Alexis as she lost the function in her hands and feet.

"She was a fighter. They had to resuscitate her five times in Starship but eventually her body gave up."

Just six days earlier the family had celebrated Alexis' 7th birthday with a day at Pataua.

"She went fishing and caught two fish, kahawai I think. On that day she gathered up oysters and pips for us. We had a great day," her mother remembers.

They celebrated with a birthday cake and jumping off the Pataua footbridge.

"Alexis always pushed herself to the limit, she loved jumping off that bridge."


• Meningitis is most commonly caused by meningococcal bacteria. Meningococcal meningitis can cause septicaemia (severe blood poisoning).

• It can be treated with antibiotics but early treatment is vital.

• Most cases occur during winter or spring. Symptoms are flu-like but rapidly get worse, and include fever, headache, vomiting, delirium, joint pain and muscle pain, a stiff neck, sensitivity to lights, rashes, spots or bruising.

• Meningitis can be caused by bacteria (bacterial meningococcus) and viruses (viral meningitis).

• It can be caused by a number of bacteria but most commonly from meningococcal bacteria.

• Meningococcal disease is fatal in 10 to 20 per cent of cases. Up to 20 per cent of survivors are left with a disability such as loss of skin, fingers, toes or limbs, hearing loss, epilepsy, brain damage, kidney failure or developmental delay.

• Meningococcal bacteria are common and live naturally in the nose and throat. The bacteria are in saliva and can be spread through kissing, sneezing, coughing, sharing bottles or cups, plates, utensils or food, toothbrushes and baby dummies.

• An estimated 15 per cent of New Zealanders carry the bacteria without getting sick.