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.
Meningococcal disease can affect anyone, however there are certain groups that are at higher risk. These include:
People who have had only minor exposure to someone with meningococcal disease have a very low risk of developing the disease.
Healthcare workers are not at increased risk unless they have been directly exposed to a case's nasopharyngeal secretions (for example, if they performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or intubated the case without using a face mask).
Vaccination is the key prevention against meningococcal disease. There are two meningococcal vaccines available:
Because routine childhood vaccines do not protect against all strains of meningococcal disease, all people must still be alert for the symptoms and signs of meningococcal disease, even if they have been vaccinated.
Diagnosis is based on the patient's history and examination. This is sometimes difficult in the early stages of the disease. Confirmation of the diagnosis involves testing samples from the patient, including blood, cerebrospinal fluid, or skin samples. The time taken to get a test result can vary depending on the tests performed.
Patients with meningococcal disease need urgent treatment with antibiotics, in hospital, and treatment is usually started before the diagnosis is confirmed by tests.
Hospitals and laboratories notify cases of meningococcal disease to the local public health unit (PHU). PHU staff will work with the doctor, the patient or the patient's family to identify the people who have been close to the ill person (depending on the duration and the nature of their exposure). These people are called contacts.
Contacts are given information about meningococcal disease. A smaller group of close contacts are carefully identified and given clearance antibiotics because they are the people most likely to be carrying the bacteria.
These antibiotics eliminate the bacteria from the throat and help prevent it from being transmitted to others. Clearance antibiotics are different to the antibiotics used to treat the infection and people who receive clearance antibiotics are still at some risk of developing the disease. All contacts should therefore be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease and should see a doctor urgently if these occur.
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.
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