NSW Health Urgent Alert for Parents and Youth as Meningococcal Disease Rise

Parents and young people have been urged to watch for symptoms of meningococcal disease as the incidence increases.

There have been 29 reported cases of meningococcal disease in New South Wales this year.

A man in his 20s died of meningococcus B last week, the second death from the disease in New South Wales in 2022.

The NSW Department of Health has said that while meningococcal disease is now rare due to vaccination, it can occur year-round.

“We tend to see an increase in late winter and early spring. We are seeing a slight increase in the number of cases in recent weeks compared to the same period in the previous five years,” the statement said.

Children under the age of five and between the ages of 15 and 25 are at the greatest risk of contracting the disease.

Health Protection NSW Executive Director Dr. Jeremy Macanulty said early intervention could save lives.

“Symptoms of a meningococcal infection can appear suddenly and become very severe very quickly. If you suspect a meningococcal infection, don’t wait for a rash to appear – see your doctor immediately,” Dr. Makanulti said.

Meningococcal infection can be fatal within hours if left untreated. Knowing the symptoms can help prevent premature death or permanent disability.

Symptoms include:

– Severe unexplained pain in the limbs

– Difficulty waking up

– High-pitched crying in babies

– Strong headache

– upset by bright light

– Stiffness of the neck muscles

– red-purple rash that does not disappear when pressed with a glass

“While this is a well-known symptom of meningococcal disease, the rash does not always occur or may appear late in the disease,” Dr. Makanulty said.

“If symptoms get worse quickly, or if your child is very ill, call Triple Zero (000) or go directly to the nearest emergency room.”

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious and sometimes fatal infection. Up to one in 10 patients die, and four out of 10 infections lead to permanent disability, including learning difficulties, vision and hearing problems, liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes, or limbs, or scarring caused by skin grafting.

The National Immunization Program provides meningococcal vaccine free of charge to children as young as 12 months, adolescents, and people of all ages with certain medical conditions. In New South Wales, the adolescent dose of the vaccine is given as part of the 10th grade school vaccination program.

Aboriginal children under the age of two and people with certain medical conditions can also get free meningococcal vaccines. All children over six weeks of age can get the Men B vaccine to reduce the risk of infection.

Originally published as Urgent Health Warning for Meningococcus in New South Wales