There are renewed calls for greater public awareness about meningitis and the vaccines that can prevent infection of the potentially deadly disease.
It’s a call being made by Meningitis New Zealand, Canterbury University’s medical director and the mother of teenager who died in 2018.
The death of a female student at Canterbury University last month is fuelling concerns that general awareness of meningococcal disease is low and that could be endangering at-risk groups, like students who have just started university.
"People only hear about meningitis when there is a death, which is tragic," says Andrea Brady from the Meningitis Foundation.
Tarsha Boniface is the mother of 18-year-old Chloe Boniface, who died 16 months ago. Chloe was nearing the end of her first year at Victoria University and living in the halls of residence.
Her family was unaware of the risk of transmission of the disease to those living in close quarters, like university halls, boarding schools and defence barracks.
“If I could have saved her I would of,” Tarsha says. “But I didn’t know I could of.”
First-year students are among those eligible for a free vaccine which offers protection from four strains of the disease – A, C, W and Y. A non-funded follow up vaccine may also be necessary.
Another vaccine offers protection for the B strain of the disease. Two shots are required at a cost of around $300.
Dr Joan Allardyce, medical director of the University of Canterbury Health Centre, believes both vaccines should be freely available.
“I would like to see the meningitis vaccines as part of the of the National Immunisation Schedule,” Dr Allardyce says.
Meningitis claimed 10 lives last year and infected 138 others.
Tarsha Boniface said if she had known then what she knows now about the disease she would have told her daughter to go straight to hospital.
“But because I just thought she had a cold, I told her to go to bed,” Tarsha says.
“And I have lived with regret every single day that I didn’t know that it could have been meningitis because it just wasn’t something we were informed about.”