Do you know the signs of meningitis?

Meningitis kills or disables around 1.2 million people worldwide each year. Even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, approximately 10% of patients die and up to 20% or more sustain permanent damage and disability. Pacific Trust Canterbury, the largest provider of Pacific health and social services in the South Island is encouraging communities to be aware and know the symptoms of Meningitis.



Meningitis can be hard to recognise in the early stages. Symptoms can be similar to those of the common flu and can develop quickly, over a matter of hours.

The main symptoms to look out for are fever, vomiting, headache and stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and drowsiness or altered consciousness. The signs and symptoms do not appear in a definite order and some may not appear at all.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can affect anyone, but the age groups most at risk of infection are: 

  • Infants 6 to 18 months of age
  • Children under the age of 5 years
  • Adolescents and young adults
  • Elderly people (due to their declining immune function)
  • People with illnesses which affect the immune system

Types of meningitis


There are three main types of meningitis infection; bacterial, viral and fungal / environmental.

Bacterial meningitis


Bacterial meningitis is life threatening, develops quickly and can lead to permanent disability or death within hours, if not properly treated. Most cases of bacterial meningitis are caused by meningococcus, pneumococcus and Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib). There are various strains of meningococcal meningitis, the most common in New Zealand being B and C, with babies, young children, teenagers and young adults at the greatest risk. Septicaemia (blood poisoning) is a potentially life-threatening infection that occurs when the bacteria that cause meningitis get into the bloodstream. The infection may be seen alone or in addition to meningitis. Other bacteria that can cause meningitis include E.coli and Group B Strep (common causes of neonatal meningitis) and Mycobacteria tuberculosis (TB).

Viral meningitis


Viral meningitis is the most common but least severe type. Almost all patients recover without any permanent damage, although full recovery can take many weeks. It is most often spread through respiratory droplets (kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing food or utensils) or faecal contamination. Elderly people and those with conditions that affect their immune system are more at risk.

Fungal / environmental meningitis


Fungal meningitis causes severe infections but occurs much less frequently. It is not contagious and spreads by inhaling fungal spores from the environment.



The best way to prevent it is through vaccination, however there is no one vaccine that can protect against all of the types of meningitis.

Currently there are vaccines for Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) meningitis, and bacterial meningitis including meningococcal disease and pneumococcal disease.

There are no vaccines available for viral meningitis but like Meningococcal disease it can be spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing so it is important to cover your nose or mouth with your arm when you sneeze or cough. Wash and dry your hands after using the toilet and before and after preparing food to help stop bacteria from spreading.



Pacific Trust Canterbury is the largest provider of Pacific health and social services in the South Island. They provide affordable, holistic care to the communities of Canterbury.

Click here to view the Pacific Trust Canterbury website