Family members who think a loved one may have meningococcal disease should seek immediate medical attention as the symptoms are almost identical to the common flu, a Lakes District Health Board worker warns.
"If you think your family member is more sick than they should be [and] they're unusually unwell ... then seek medical advice straight away," said Toi Te Ora medical officer Dr Jim Miller.
His comments follow the death of Wellington school girl Amanda Crook-Barker earlier this week.
The 12-year-old was the third fatal meningococcal case this year. She died on Monday evening after falling ill that afternoon.
Dr Miller said it was especially important parents understood the fast-acting disease.
"Symptoms include a fever, headache, stiff neck and not liking bright lights.
"But a lot of those signs and symptoms are common to other sorts of illnesses ... and it's very difficult [to see] in babies.
"You really have to trust your instincts," he said.
Between January 1 and July 31 this year, 38 cases of meningococcal disease were reported nationally, according to Environmental Science and Research figures. None of the cases were in the Lakes region.
The disease, which mainly affects infants and teenagers aged 15 to 19 years, is caused by bacteria spread through spit.
People infected with the bacteria can deteriorate rapidly and those who survive are sometimes left with serious disabilities as limb amputations can be necessary when fighting the illness.
Dr Helen Petousis-Harris of the Immunisation Advisory Centre recommended everyone vaccinate against the disease, especially those in the high-risk age groups.
There were two main types of vaccines available in New Zealand which could be purchased from GPs.
Both protect against the most prevalent "C" strain of the disease, which counts for about 50 per cent of cases.
The most effective of the pair - conjugate vaccines - can be administered in infants at any age and works for about 10 years.
But at a cost of more than $100, it is often an expense many Kiwi parents struggle to afford.
Dr Petousis-Harris warned that no vaccines provided full protection from meningococcal disease.
The polysaccharide vaccines, which cost around $30, last for about four years and only work in infants over the age of 2.
It was important people immunise their children as early as possible, then consider a "booster" shot during their teenage years, Dr Petousis-Harris said.
"You tend to see infants becoming susceptible after six months.
"[They] are really vulnerable because at that time they haven't started making their own protection against diseases."
- Babies: Refusal of feeds, floppiness, vomiting.
- Children and adults: Fever, confusion, stiff neck and the appearance of a rash.
- Seek help as soon as you think something is wrong.
- Ministry of Health Helpline: 0800 611 116
- For more information: http://www.meningitis.org.nz/