Western Sydney urged to be aware of rare serious bacterial illnesses requiring urgent care

NSW Health is advising the community to be aware of the signs and symptoms of rare but severe, invasive bacterial infections following recent increases in cases.

Executive Director of Health Protection NSW, Dr Richard Broome said there had been increases in both meningococcal disease (IMD) and invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS) infections in recent weeks.

Cases of IMD were above average in NSW towards the end of 2022, and cases of iGAS have increased in NSW, in other states, and overseas.

Dr Broome said it was important the community was aware while the infections are very rare, both can be very serious and can cause death or permanent disability.

“In their early stages, invasive bacterial infections including IMD or iGAS sometimes mimic symptoms of viral infections like COVID and influenza, and can also follow or occur at the same time as a viral infection,” Dr Broome said.

“Rapid intervention and effective treatment for invasive bacterial infections are available and can be lifesaving. We urge people to pay close attention to symptoms, trust their instincts, and seek urgent medical care if symptoms worsen or if they or the people they care for appear very unwell.

“While notification data on iGAS has only recently become available in NSW, the number of people unwell with the condition has clearly increased here and across the world,” Dr Broome said.

Between September and December of 2022, 137 cases of iGAS were notified in NSW.

There were 36 cases of meningococcal disease (IMD) reported in NSW in 2022.

Indicators of serious illness include fever, a fast heart rate, cold hands and feet or a mottled look to the skin, difficulty waking or increased lethargy or confusion. The person looks unwell and may also have nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain.

Symptoms to look out for in young children that may indicate severe illness include irritability, difficulty waking, high-pitched crying, refusal to eat/feed, fewer or no wet nappies or decreased urination, cold or mottled limbs, and difficulty breathing.

People with meningococcal disease may experience severe headache, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights, or unexplained joint or limb pain. A non-blanching rash of red-purple spots or bruises may also occur but often presents later in the illness. Do not wait for a rash to occur.

iGAS can cause different symptoms. As well as the signs of serious illness, they may have muscle aches and pains. If they have a bruise or a skin infection this may become red, warm or very painful, including pain beyond the area that is obviously affected.

People with iGAS may develop a red, warm, painful, and rapidly spreading skin infection which may have pus or ulceration. Children may present with a sunburn-like rash. The rash and skin changes are not always present so do not wait for a rash to seek care if the person is very unwell.

Lower abdominal pain, bleeding, or bad-smelling discharge from the vagina can be symptoms of serious infection in women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth.

For more information on iGAS and IMD see the NSW Health website.

If you are concerned about your or your child’s health call your GP or HealthDirect on 1800 022 222. If you or the person you care for is seriously unwell call 000.