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Pacific uni students encouraged to get vaccinated against deadly disease

Paridhi Bakshi

Nurse Caryn Williams says meningococcal disease kills one in 10 who contract it, and leaves many others with debilitating after-effects.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Give your parents peace of mind and get vaccinated" is the message from a school nurse for Māori and Pacific students leaving home for their studies.

A nurse from New Zealand's largest boarding school is urging students living and studying in close quarters to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease.

Woodford House nurse, Caryn Williams, says it is one of those diseases that is hard to identify.

"It's a bacterial infection that affects the membrane around the brain that supplies the rest of our body so if there's an infection in there, it travels reasonably quickly into our bloodstream."

She says about one in every 10 people who contract the disease die, and one in five survivors will have a disability such as brain damage, amputated limbs and hearing loss.

Williams says Māori and Pacific communities are the most vulnerable to the disease because they often live in big households.

The latest data from 2023 shows Māori and Pacific infants and toddlers made up more than half of meningococcal disease, and while those cases are trending down, the number of cases in the 13-25 year age group is actually going up.

Williams says teenagers who are heading off to university dorms and flats about now, need to be extra cautious.

Although the government is providing free vaccinations until 28 February, she says it would be nice if meningococcal vaccines were subsidised for all 13 to 25-year-olds in boarding situations in the longer term.

"It would be amazing if the [subsidies] were extended to our Māori and Pasifika people."

And she is asking parents to look out for the symptoms and to educate themselves through social media, TV advertisements and websites.

"If your kids are going off to uni or beyond your roof, your house, it's a really good idea to get vaccinated.

"One less thing Mum and Dad have to worry about."

Meningococcal disease compared to meningitis

Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus.

It is most common in winter and spring.

Infection with meningococcus can rapidly lead to meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain), septicaemia (overwhelming infection of the blood) and pneumonia.

Symptoms to watch out for:

Older children and adults may have: a fever, malaise, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and pains, drowsiness, headache, dislike of bright light, neck stiffness, or have a rash or spots.

Hero Image: Pacific people are being encouraged to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease. Photo/ Supplied

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