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Meningococcal disease – what you need to know and look out for

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised and treated in time.

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Rare forms of the disease include septic arthritis (joint infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and conjunctivitis (infection of the outer lining of the eye and eyelid).

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. Five to ten per cent of patients with meningococcal disease die, even despite rapid treatment.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital.

Signs and symptoms:

The distinctive dreaded rash

The distinctive meningococcal rash (indicating bleeding into the skin) can be a critical symptom of deadly septicaemia, along with a high fever. The rash may start with a simple spot or blister anywhere on the body, then may progress quickly to red pinpricks like small mosquito bites, and/or spread quickly into purple bruise like blotches. It’s important not to wait until a rash appears before seeking treatment, as the meningococcal rash signifies a critical stage of the disease.

Symptoms in babies

  • fever, hands and feet may also feel cold
  • refusing feeds or vomiting
  • high pitched moaning cry or whimpering
  • dislike of being handled, fretful
  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises that do not fade under pressure
  • blank and staring expression
  • bulging fontanelle
  • difficult to wake, lethargic
  • pale blotchy complexion

Symptoms in older children and adults

  • vomiting
  • fever
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • dislike of bright lights
  • drowsiness
  • joint pain
  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises that do not fade under pressure

If anyone has any of these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention.

Early treatment can sometimes prevent serious complications.

Treatment:

Seek urgent medical advice from your doctor or hospital if you are in any way concerned that you or someone you know is presenting symptoms consistent with meningococcal disease.

Patients with meningococcal disease need urgent treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

If the rash appears, in conjunction with other symptoms such as a high fever, call an ambulance for urgent treatment.

In cases where meningococcal disease is suspected, it is recommended that antibiotic treatment be started before the diagnosis is confirmed by tests.

Prevention:

Get vaccinated!

While it’s advisable to practice good hygiene to minimise the spread of bacteria causing disease, and to avoid sharing drink bottles, food, toothbrushes, mouthguards and lip gloss, the only truly effective way to prevent meningococcal disease is vaccination.

In Australia, there are now vaccines available for each of the 5 main strains of the disease:

Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine protects against meningococcal group C disease. It is recommended for all children at the age of 12 months (as part of the free National Immunisation Program). It is also suitable for teenagers and adults. Contact your GP for more information.

Meningococcal B has a vaccine which is available by private script from your doctor. This vaccine is not yet subsidised by the Government. For infants, the vaccine is given in four doses – at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months of age. For children over 12 months, teenagers and adults, the vaccine is given in two doses approximately 2 months apart (for the precise timing, check with your GP).

Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine is a combination vaccine and protects against groups A, C, Y and W. See your doctor for advice as this is generally recommended when travelling overseas to certain areas. This vaccine is not subsidised by the Government.

Please visit your GP and they can discuss options and ensure that you and your family are up to date with vaccinations.

Article supplied by

www.marinersdoctors.com.au         www.tuggerahdoctors.com.au

www.toukleydoctors.com.au            www.warnervaledoctors.com.au

Resources:

Meningococcal Australia www.meningococcal.org.au

NSW Health www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/meningococcal_disease.aspx

QLD Health  www.health.qld.gov.au

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