A case of meningococcal disease has recently been diagnosed in the MidCentral DHB area, and the person is being treated at the Palmerston North Hospital. It is the fourth case this year.

The most recent case has now been confirmed as having the MenW strain, which is currently affecting Northland. The previous three cases were not MenW, MidCentral DHB has confirmed.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Rob Weir said meningococcal disease was caused when bacteria living in the nose or throat entered the bloodstream. This can cause meningitis or blood poisoning.

"The bug is spread through close contact, such as living in the same household.
"You can help stop meningococcal disease from spreading by covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Good hand washing is also very important.

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"Meningococcal vaccination is recommended for people who have had or are having their spleen removed. Vaccination is also recommended for young people moving to hostels, military recruits and people with an increased risk of invasive disease (including people with sickle cell anaemia or HIV infection)."

Meningococcal disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can look like other illnesses such as the flu. It has a range of symptoms including fever, headache, dislike of light, vomiting, a rash that does not fade when pressed, confusion and sleepiness.

Dr Weir said anyone with these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention as early treatment was extremely important.

People who were concerned or confused about symptoms should seek medical advice straight away. If you have seen a doctor and gone home, but are still concerned, don't hesitate to call your doctor again or seek further medical advice.

Dr Weir said the MidCentral District Health Board Public Health team is following up with people who may have been in contact with the patient in the most recent case.

"Public Health is offering vaccinations to those identified as close contacts, as is the standard procedure for cases such as this." Dr Weir said.

"It's important to note that this is a single case, and all efforts are being made to inform those who have had close contact with the patient."

The patient has since been transferred to Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland.

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Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes two serious illnesses: meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

"Meningococcal disease is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. It can look like the flu early on but quickly gets much worse. It is important for anyone with symptoms to seek urgent medical attention," Dr Weir said.

Symptoms included some or all of the following: fever; headache; vomiting; feeling sleepy, confused and delirious; loss of consciousness; joint pains; aching muscles; stiff neck; dislike of bright lights; or rashes, purple or red spots, or bruises.

Other symptoms in babies and infants include being unsettled, floppy or irritable, refusing drinks and feeds, and becoming harder to wake.

Children who have previously received meningococcal vaccination can still get meningococcal disease because the vaccine does not protect against all types of meningococcal bacteria. Therefore, be on the lookout for signs or symptoms of meningococcal illness even if your child has previously been vaccinated.

Healthline can also be called freephone on 0800 611 116 at any hour of the day or night – even if you have already been seen by a health professional.