NSW Health’s urgent warning for parents and young people amid meningococcal rise

Parent and young people have been urged to be on the lookout for symptoms of meningococcal with the disease on the rise.

Twenty-nine cases of meningococcal disease have been reported in New South Wales so far this year.

A man in his 20s died from meningococcal B last week, the second death from the disease in NSW in 2022.

NSW Health said while meningococcal disease is now uncommon thanks to vaccination, it can occur all 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,” a statement read.

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. 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 lifelong disability.

Symptoms 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.”

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but serious and sometimes fatal infection. Up to one in 10 cases die, and four in 10 infections result in permanent disabilities, including learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes or limbs, or scarring caused by skin grafts.

Under the National Immunisation Program, the meningococcal 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.

Aboriginal children up to the age of two years, and people with certain medical conditions, can also access free meningococcal vaccines. All children from six weeks of age can have the Men B vaccine to reduce the risk of infection.

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