Friends of meningitis victim Brittany Arthur offered antibiotics

Brittany Arthur died of meningococcal meningitis  (Facebook)
Brittany Arthur died of meningococcal meningitis (Facebook)

Southern health officials insist the region isn't suffering a meningitis outbreak, despite already being notified of twice as many cases in 2016 as is normal.

Otago Polytechnic nursing student Brittany Arthur died on Saturday at Dunedin Hospital of acute meningococcal meningitis, after what she believed were just flu-like symptoms quickly escalated.

The 20-year-old had gone out to dinner on Wednesday night to celebrate sitting her final nursing exam. She woke up on Thursday morning with a headache, and went back to bed later in the day. 

But she collapsed late that night after trying to get up, and never regained consciousness after being taken to the intensive care unit.

More than 20 of Ms Arthur's close friends and contacts have been contacted by the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) and offered antibiotics.

Fourteen cases of meningococcal disease have been referred to the SDHD this year, but Medical Officer of Health Marion Poore says they were caused by a variety of strains.

Even people who had been vaccinated could be at risk, because they were only protected against certain strains of the disease.

Meningitis is usually more common during winter, and while the bacteria only causes mild flu-like symptoms for some people, it can be fatal for others.

The SDHB has also sent an open letter to staff and students at Otago Polytechnic and Otago University, warning of the need to be aware of the signs of the disease.

Early symptoms can include a skin rash, stiff neck, strong headache, fever, vomiting, joint pain, sensitivity to light and drowsiness.