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Updated: 14 December 2023

Various strains of meningococcal bacteria cause a rare disease either by “blood poisoning” (septicaemia) and/or “meningitis” (infection of the membranes around the brain), both of which are potentially fatal.

Meningococci are transmitted by droplet aerosol or secretions from the nasopharynx of colonised persons. Close and prolonged contact – e.g. kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters, sharing eating/drinking utensils – facilitates the spread of the bacteria. The bacteria attach to and multiply on the mucosal cells of the nasopharynx. It is believed that 10–20 per cent of the population carries meningitis bacteria at any given time. In a small number (less than 1 per cent) of colonised persons, the organism penetrates the mucosal cells and enters the bloodstream causing disease as above.

Meningitis B* and ACWY vaccines are fully funded for NZ residents aged 13–25 years entering college accommodation.

* also fully funded for those students already in college accomodation until 28/2/2024

We strongly recommend all students, particularly those living in residential colleges, be vaccinated against meningococcal disease before coming to Dunedin. Historically, there are at least one or two cases among students at the University of Otago annually. Vaccination will provide very good levels of protection but unfortunately there is not a single vaccine that covers all meningitis strains.

Three injections are required to provide optimal protection against current circulating strains of meningococcal disease: two of the meningitis B vaccine, which are usually eight weeks apart, and one of the meningitis ACWY vaccine.

For information regarding meningococcal disease and vaccines available, visit:

Meningococcal disease (including meningitis), Ministry of Health website

No vaccine is ever 100 per cent guaranteed to protect against disease. It is important that people who have symptoms suggestive of meningococcal disease or are seriously ill access medical care as soon as possible. Friends and flatmates should be ready to look after each other and know how to access urgent health care.

For more information about vaccine charges:

How much does it cost at Student Health?

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

There has been an increase in pertussis in our community. Pertussis usually starts with cold symptoms and a mild cough and then progresses to a paroxysmal cough which can induce vomiting. It can last up to three months.

Young children and babies are most at risk of developing breathing problems, pneumonia and in some cases brain damage from pertussis.

If you have been in contact with someone who has probable or confirmed pertussis and/or you have symptoms of possible pertussis please see a GP as soon as possible.

Early treatment with antibiotics can reduce the severity of the disease and vaccination of close contacts reduces the spread of infection.

Current advice is that adults should be offered booster vaccination (not funded) especially those working with young children, pregnant women and babies.

Pregnant women should be offered vaccination in the last trimester of each pregnancy to protect their new-born.

Read more about whooping cough

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