Western Sydney community urged to stay alert for meningococcal symptoms

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

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious and sometimes fatal infection.

So far this year, there have been 29 cases of meningococcal disease reported in NSW. The majority of cases have been due to meningococcal B strain of the infection.

Sadly, a woman in her late teens has died from meningococcal disease. This is the third death due to meningococcal disease in NSW this year.

NSW Health expresses its sincere condolences to her loved ones.

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. We have seen a slight increase in cases in recent weeks, compared with the same period over the previous five years.

There are different strains of infection, and the disease can occur in people even if they have been vaccinated.

Check that you and your children are up to date with vaccinations. Babies can receive the Meningococcal B vaccine from six weeks of age and the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine at 12 months.

Children under five and 15 to 25-year-olds are at the greatest risk of contracting the disease.

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

“Meningococcal disease symptoms can appear suddenly and become very serious very quickly. I urge everyone not to discount symptoms when they appear or assume it may be just a mild infection. 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.”

Dr McAnulty

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.