Meningococcal disease is a serious, sometimes fatal illness

MENINGOCOCCAL disease is a contagious disease caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcal bacteria). It can develop quickly, and it can be fatal. Anyone with a suspected meningococcal infection needs to see a doctor immediately.

Meningococcal disease is a medical emergency. It can kill within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital. Do not wait for the purple rash to appear as that is a late stage of the disease.

• Up to 10% of people with meningococcal disease die, even with rapid treatment.

• It can affect anyone, but is more common in children under 5, and people aged 15-25.

• Symptoms usually present suddenly and can get worse very quickly.

• The characteristic rash does not always appear, or may appear late. Don’t wait for a rash. See symptoms? Act fast.

• Vaccination​ is the best way to prevent the spread.

Symptoms and who is at risk
The main symptoms of meningococcal disease are:
• rash of red or purple pinprick spots, or larger bruise-like areas, that does not turn skin-coloured when you press on it with a finger or the side of a clear drinking glass
• fever
• headache
• neck stiffness
• light sensitivity
• nausea or vomiting
• diarrhoea
• drowsiness and confusion
• difficulty walking or talking

In babies and young children, you might notice they:
• refuse food
• are fretful and irritable
• are very tired and floppy
• have a fit or are twitchy
• have a high moaning cry

The signs and symptoms do not appear in a definite order and some may not appear at all. Meningococcal disease has many symptoms, some of which can be similar to other illnesses. Act fast, don’t wait for the rash.

Vaccinate to prevent
Several vaccines against meningococcal disease are available in NSW. Consult your GP about the best option for you.

Spread, diagnosis and treatment of meningococcal disease
Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person, in the secretions from the back of the nose and throat.

Meningococcal disease for health professionals
Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterial infection and can lead to serious illness. It is uncommon in NSW, and occurs more often in winter and spring. Infants, small children, adolescents and young adults are most at risk. Early treatment is vital.