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Meningitis and respiratory illnesses

Tuesday 25 October 2022 4:17pm


Meningitis is a bacterial disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis. There are various groups of bacteria including groups A, B, C, Y and W.

  • 1–2 people in 10 who survive have long term complications
  • 1–2 people out of every 10 will die

Those most at risk are:

  • Adolescents and young adults aged between 15–19 years
  • Smokers
  • People living in residential colleges and crowded accommodation
  • People who engage in binge drinking
  • People who have another respiratory condition, e.g. influenza
  • People who have a condition affecting the immune system
  • People of Māori and Pacific ethnicity

Symptoms of meningitis can develop suddenly and include:

  • A high fever
  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint and muscle pains
  • A stiff neck
  • Dislike of bright lights
  • Vomiting
  • A rash consisting of reddish-purple pin-prick spots or bruises that don’t fade with pressure

What to do

  • If you or your friend(s)/whānau are worried you are seriously ill, get medical attention straight away or call an ambulance by dialing 111.
  • Say what the symptoms are.
  • You can also call Healthline free on 0800 611 116, 24 hours a day – even if you have already been seen by a health professional.

More information

You can find more information about meningitis on the Health Navigator New Zealand website:

Meningitis – Health Navigator New Zealand

Caring for yourself with respiratory illness

The best thing you can do is rest at home until you feel better. Stay home from work or school and away from other people while you are unwell. Other things you can do are to:

  • Keep hydrated to replace fluids you lose because of fever and sweating
  • Drink mainly water and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol as they dry you out even more
  • Sip fresh lemon juice mixed with honey and hot water, or gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat or dry cough
  • Eat only light food when you are hungry
  • Use a damp cloth to cool your forehead and limbs
  • Shower or bathe regularly and keep bedding clean and dry


Many respiratory illesses are caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not help.

Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve fever, body aches and headache. Ask your pharmacist about other medicines such as lozenges or gargles to ease symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, and cough.

If you have any of the symptoms below, seek immediate medical attention:

  • A high fever that doesn’t come down, especially if you are pregnant
  • Chills or severe shaking
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Purple or bluish discoloration of lips, fingers, or toes
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Signs of other serious conditions, such as meningococcal disease

For more information refer to the Health Navigator New Zealand website:

Influenza – Health Navigator New Zealand

Sore throat – Health Navigator New Zealand

Cough in adults – Health Navigator New Zealand

Acute sinusitis – Health Navigator New Zealand

If you have had COVID previously it is unlikely that you will have another COVID infection within 29 days of that infection. Tell your warden at your college or your flatmates that you are unwell and have them check in with you while you are unwell. Wear a mask while around others to protect them.

University coursework and exams

You may not need a medical certificate for university course work, assignments, tutorials, labs, or other related study. Please check first with your course supervisor or lecturer.

Please see the University Examinations website for advice on applying for special consideration for exams:

Examinations – University of Otago

Useful phone numbers:

  • Student Health
    Tel 0800 479 821
    Hours: Mon–Fri 8.30am–8.30pm (Wed 9.45am opening)
  • Healthline
    Nurse advice 24/7
    Tel 0800 611 116
  • Life-threatening emergencies: 111
  • Dunedin Urgent Doctor and Accident Centre, 18 Filleul Street
    Tel +64 3 479 2900
    Hours: 8am–10pm

Last review date: 25/10/2022
Student Health Services, University of Otago