Every SECOND counts. If you suspect meningitis, GET MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. Call or see your doctor / Call an ambulance / Get to a hospital.


Welcome to the Meningitis Foundation podcast.

We aim to educate and inform New Zealanders about meningitis and septicaemia and the diseases that cause them – pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease.

In 2018 there were 120 confirmed cases of invasive meningococcal disease in New Zealand, and 10 people died.

This is a vaccine preventable disease and yet the vaccines are not funded by the New Zealand Government.

Across the series, recorded in late April 2019, we talk with individuals who have survived meningitis and families who have experienced the heartbreak of losing a loved one to meningitis. We also talk with medical professionals and government representatives about the disease, the epidemic in Northland, and the available vaccines.

For more information go to www.meningitis.org.nz or follow us on facebook.


A survivor’s story – Sara Dwen (nee Martin)

Sara had just finished university and started her first job when she got sick and went home with what she thought was the flu. Sara’s mother kept an eye on her that afternoon and took her to an A&E clinic to be checked out. She was discharged home. Sara’s symptoms got worse overnight and her mum took her back to A&E. Sara was immediately transferred to Auckland’s North Shore Hospital. She was diagnosed with meningococcal septicaemia and fought hard to survive. This is her story of survival, recovery, and rehabilitation.

A survivor’s story - Louise Duncan

Meningococcal meningitis changed Louise’s life completely. Louise and her Mum Frankie talk about her symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and her long road to recovery. Louise’s love for animals has played a significant role in her recovery and rehabilitation. After learning to walk again, Louise was determined to get back on her beloved horses. Louise is working towards selection for the New Zealand paraequestrian team with the goal of representing New Zealand at the Tokyo Paralympics.

A survivor’s story from the eyes of a mum – Cheralyn Sorrell

Cheralyn’s son Matthew contracted meningitis at 3½ years of age. After a full day at daycare, Matthew was drowsy, had a sore neck and disliked bright lights. Cheralyn was concerned for his health and when Matthew’s symptoms changed she trusted her instincts and rushed him straight to hospital. Watching him fight for his life was heartbreaking. Matthew survived but has lived with severe migraines and eye problems ever since. Now a healthy teenager he realises how lucky he is and how important his mum’s actions were.

Lightning never strikes twice? Peter and Helen Rowlands

Peter and Helen Rowlands’ lives have been impacted by meningitis not just once, but twice. Their son Gareth died from meningococcal septicaemia at 16 years of age while living at boarding school in the UK, leaving the family totally devastated. After moving to New Zealand, they faced this terrible disease again when their daughter Sian was diagnosed with viral meningitis in 2017 at the age of 32. They talk openly about Gareth, their own experiences in coping with his death, what they have learnt along the way, and their tireless work to raise public awareness of meningitis.

Honouring Letitia (Tesh) Gallagher

Lisa and Mark Gallagher said goodbye to their beautiful daughter in July 2012. Tesh contracted meningococcal disease as an 18 year old and died within 18 hours of seeing a GP for flu-like symptoms. The disease progressed so quickly and went straight to Tesh’s brain that there was nothing that could be done for her. But Tesh’s legacy lives on. As an organ donor, Tesh has given ten other New Zealanders a second chance at life. Lisa and Mark honour Tesh with their work to educate others.

Dr Emma Best - Paediatrician, infectious diseases specialist, and medical advisor at IMAC

Dr Emma Best has a special interest in pneumococcal and meningococcal meningitis in children. Dr Best provides us with a solid understanding of the disease, the difference between bacterial and viral meningitis, and how they clinically present. Dr Best also provides a specialist’s viewpoint of how the disease is treated and the likely outcomes for patients who survive meningitis infections. We talk briefly about the Northland meningococcal disease epidemic and the success of the targeted vaccination programme.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris - Vaccinologist, Senior Lecturer

As a researcher and vaccine specialist Dr Petousis-Harris sees our battle with pneumococcal and meningococcal disease as an ongoing battle with a microbe that does not discriminate. In our discussion, Dr Petousis-Harris provides an insight as to who is most at risk of infection, the various forms of pneumococcal and meningococcal disease, and the vaccines that are currently available in NZ to protect against these diseases. We specifically discuss the meningococcal B vaccine and the quadrivalent ACWY vaccine.

Dr Api Talemaitoga – GP and community and pacific health specialist

Dr Talemaitoga is a GP, currently working between Christchurch and Manukau, Auckland. He has a wealth of experience working with people in New Zealand as well as around the Pacific. He previously held the position of Chief Advisor for Pacific Health and Clinical Director Community Health Service Improvement within the Ministry of Health. In this discussion, we focus on the disproportionately high impact of meningococcal disease on our Maori and Pacific Island communities and the strategies that are necessary to protect our loved ones.

Dr Tony Smith - Adult Intensive Care Specialist, Medical Director at St John

Dr Tony Smith has had first hand experience treating patients with meningococcal disease and meningitis in intensive care units at North Shore Hospital and Auckland City Hospital. He has been profoundly influenced by this devastating disease and describes it as one of the most difficult to diagnose and as ‘every clinician’s worst nightmare’. A truly tragic disease, it can take a healthy normal human being and kill them quickly. Dr Smith talks in detail about the treatment of patients, outcomes, and the development of guidelines for pre-hospital management.

Lisa Williams - Director of Operations, PHARMAC

PHARMAC is NZ’s government agency which decides which medicines are funded within a fixed budget decided by the Minister of Health. They assess new medicines applications and make decisions about which ones are reimbursed and made available to New Zealanders. They also purchase and distribute funded vaccines to GPs for administration to eligible people. Lisa talks about the process of getting vaccines to high need areas at the time of an outbreak, as well as what is required to get a vaccine funded, so everyone has access.

Dr Niki Stefanogiannis - Deputy Director of Public Health, Ministry of Health

Responsible for the management of vaccine preventable diseases and communicable diseases in NZ, the Ministry receives regular surveillance reports from ESR regarding the latest statistics for meningococcal disease and monitors trends in the number of cases and the serotypes which affect New Zealanders. Dr Stefanogiannis talks us through the recent increase in the number of Men.W infections and deaths, and the implications for effective management. This includes education, vaccination, and timely medical treatment.

Jamie Martin - advocating for the global eradication of meningitis

Jamie Martin is a meningitis survivor, a multiple amputee, a US paralympian and an absolute inspiration. Against all odds, she survived meningococcal infection and after a long process of recovery and rehabilitation now works to educate families, healthcare practitioners, and governments around the world about meningitis with the aim of eradicating the disease entirely. She advocates for universal access to vaccines, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be protected from this devastating disease.

Paul Gilberd – Director of the Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand

Paul Gilberd works with a small team of dedicated volunteers to raise awareness of pneumococcal and meningococcal meningitis, to provide information and education, and to advocate for access to vaccinations for all New Zealanders. The Foundation also manages an active network of families affected by meningitis. Paul talks about the work of the Meningitis Foundation, their support for ongoing research, and their efforts to effect change in our community and healthcare system.

Disclaimer - The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand promotes the prevention, control and awareness of meningitis. It is not a professional medical authority. The text on this website provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. It is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of these diseases. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.