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Community urged to stay alert for meningococcal symptoms

05 Aug 2022

 

NSW Health is urging parents and young people to be alert to the symptoms of meningococcal disease and act immediately if they appear.

While meningococcal disease is now uncommon thanks to vaccination, it can occur year round. We tend to see increases in late winter and early spring, with children under five and 15 to 25-year-olds at the greatest risk of contracting the disease.

Executive Director of Health Protection NSW, Dr Jeremy McAnulty said early intervention can be lifesaving.

“Onset of meningococcal disease symptoms can appear suddenly and become very serious very quickly. If you suspect meningococcal disease, don’t wait for the rash – see a doctor immediately,” Dr McAnulty said.

Meningococcal disease can be fatal within hours if left untreated. Knowing the symptoms could help prevent premature death or life-long disability. They include:

  • Severe, unexplained limb pain

  • Difficulty waking up

  • High pitched crying in babies

  • Severe headache

  • Upset by bright lights

  • Stiff neck

  • Red-purple rash which doesn’t disappear when pressed with a glass

“While it is a well-known symptom of meningococcal disease, the rash does not always occur, or may present late in the illness,” Dr McAnulty said.

“If symptoms rapidly worsen, or if your child is very unwell, call Triple Zero (000) or go straight to your nearest emergency department.”

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious and sometimes fatal infection. Up to one in 10 cases die, and four in 10 infections result in permanent disabilities, including learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes or limbs, or scarring caused by skin grafts.

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and community from the harmful effects of meningococcal disease.

Under the National Immunisation Program, meningococcal ACWY (Men ACWY) vaccine is provided free for babies at 12 months, adolescents, and people of all ages with certain medical conditions. In NSW, the adolescent dose is delivered through the school vaccination program in Year 10.

As of 1 July 2020, Aboriginal children up to the age of two years, and people with certain medical conditions, can also access free meningococcal B (Men B) vaccine. All children from six weeks of age can have the Men B vaccine to reduce the risk of infection.

For more information on vaccination or symptoms, transmission, risks and treatment of Meningococcal, see the NSW Health website.