A 21-year-old student at the University of Canterbury has died after contracting meningococcal disease.
Canterbury District Health medical officer of health, Dr Cheryl Brunton, confirmed today that the student died this week.
She reassured everyone connected to the student and the university that "the chance of anyone catching it is low". Students who are close contacts are on antibiotics, have been notified and are in good health.
"I express my sincerest condolences to the person's family, and ask that their request for privacy is respected as they come to terms with the passing of their family member," Brunton said.
"Unlike Covid-19 or measles, which are highly contagious, meningococcal disease is hard to catch. The bacteria pass from one person to another through secretions from the nose or throat, during close or prolonged contact.
"Members of the same household as a person who has the disease are at the highest risk of getting it. The community and public health team has identified those close contacts of the person who require antibiotics, to prevent them developing meningococcal disease."
"Our team is working closely with the University of Canterbury, which the person attended, to provide information to students and staff," Brunton said.
"Being in the same room as someone with meningococcal disease does not mean you will catch it."
University of Canterbury executive director for people, culture and campus, Paul O'Flaherty added: "We offer our deepest condolences to the student's family, friends and loved ones. His family has requested privacy.
"The University of Canterbury's pastoral care team is supporting the student's flatmates, friends and whānau at this time. With the consent of his family, we have advised the wider university community of staff and students, including information about meningococcal disease."
Signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease
Meningococcal disease is a fast-moving illness, which has symptoms similar to a number of other illnesses such as influenza.
"It's a bacterial infection that can cause two very serious illnesses: meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can affect anyone – but it's more common in children under the age of 5, teenagers, and young adults," Brunton said.
"Up to 15 per sent of people carry the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease in their nose and throat without being sick. In some people, for reasons we don't fully understand, these bacteria sometimes go on to cause disease, spreading through the bloodstream (causing blood poisoning) or to the brain (causing meningitis). The bacteria are spread in secretions from the nose or throat by coughing, sneezing and kissing.
"Our investigations to date suggest the risk of anyone else who attended the University prior to Covid-19 alert level 4 restrictions developing meningococcal disease is very low."
Meningococcal disease symptoms typically develop very quickly over a few hours, but in some cases may develop more slowly over several days. A person with meningococcal disease may only have some of the symptoms. The symptoms don't develop in any particular order.
Common symptoms of meningococcal disease include:
- a fever (high temperature), although their hands and feet may feel cold
- muscle and joint aches and pains.
Common symptoms of meningitis include:
- a headache, which may be severe
- a stiff neck
- sensitivity to bright light
- drowsiness and confusion (being hard to wake them)