NSW Health is urging people to be alert to the symptoms of meningococcal disease with five new cases reported in NSW in the last seven days.
There have been 39 cases of invasive meningococcal disease and four deaths in NSW so far this year, compared to 27 cases and zero deaths during the same period last year.
NSW Health Director, Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said late winter/early spring was the season when meningococcal disease tended to be most prevalent, although cases presented all year round.
“Most cases occur among infants, young children, teenagers and young adults although people of any age can be infected,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“Meningococcal disease can be very severe, and people infected with it can become extremely unwell within hours of the first symptoms appearing so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms.”
Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include sudden onset of fever, cold hands and feet, limb/joint pain, nausea and vomiting, headache, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and a pin-prick rash changing to large red-purple blotches that don’t disappear with gentle pressure on the skin. A rash does not always appear or it may occur late in the disease.
Babies and very young children may also experience irritability, have difficulty waking, rapid or laboured breathing, diarrhoea, a high-pitched cry or refuse to eat.
“It is also important to note that not all of the symptoms of meningococcal disease may be present at once,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“If anyone suspects meningococcal disease, they should see a doctor immediately and return if symptoms worsen.”
Dr Sheppeard said the most common serogroups of meningococcal disease in Australia are B, C, W and Y.
“A vaccine is available for meningococcal C which is included in the National Immunisation Program schedule and recommended for all children at one year of age as part of the free routine immunisation. A vaccine against some serogroup B strains has recently become available in Australia, recommended for young children and adults, but is not part of the National Immunisation Program schedule.
“As we don’t routinely vaccinate against all strains of meningococcal disease, it’s important to be on the lookout for the symptoms, even if you have been vaccinated against C and B.”
For more information on meningococcal disease go to http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/meningococcal_disease.aspx or call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.