NSW Health is urgingpeople tobe alert to lesser known signs of meningococcal disease with 21 cases alreadyreported this year and the peak period for the disease still more than a monthaway.
NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr VickySheppeard, said cases normally start to increase towards the end of flu seasonwhen people’s immune systems are weaker from viruses.
“Meningococcaldisease is a rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause death withinhours and it’s hard to identify, so the more symptoms people know about, thebetter,” said Dr Sheppeard.
“Often it can mimic other common illnesses, so be aware nearer springthat nausea symptoms, vomiting, neck stiffness, joint pain, light sensitivity,or a sudden fever, could be something else.
“Most people normally associate meningococcal disease with a rash of red-purple spots or bruises but in some cases a rash doesn’t appear, or it couldbe the last symptom to take shape.”
Meningococcalinfection does not spread easily. It is spread by secretions from the nose andthroat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. Close and prolonged contact isneeded to pass it on.
“Itmore commonly occurs in people aged between 15-24 years as they tend to beinvolved in more intimate social activities such as kissing, and children agedunder 5 years, but it can affect anyone,” said Dr Sheppeard.
Vaccinationis the best means of protection against meningococcal disease. Vaccination for meningococcal disease types A, C, Wand Y, is available on the National Immunisation Program for infants at 12months of age and adolescents in Year 10.
Any adolescents aged 15 to 19 years who miss thevaccine in school are eligible for a free vaccine from their GP. However, asthere are several strains of meningococcal disease, and vaccination does notcover all strains, even vaccinated people need to be on the lookout forsymptoms.
Thelatest Annual Immunisation Report shows vaccination rates in NSW are at theirhighest level ever, with close to 95 per cent of five year olds fullyvaccinated.
TheNSW Government will invest around $130 million in the 2019-20 ImmunisationProgram Budget, including Commonwealth and State vaccines.