Meningococcal Disease

MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE

It is a terrifying thought that your child's or other family member's simple flu' symptoms could be life-threatening. The best defence we have against the awful consequences of diseases like meningococcal disease is accurate and useful information. The following is a verbatim copy of an information sheet handed out by the New South Wales Health Department.

WHAT IS MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE?

It is and infection caused by a bacterial germ known as meningococcus. Up to 20% of  healthy people carry the bacteria which causes this illness. There are 13 different types (serogroups) of meningococcal bacteria. In NSW, over half the cases are caused by serogroup B, and just under half by sero group C.

HOW COMMON IS IT?

The disease is rare and affects less than one in ten thousand people in NSW each year. It can occur at any age, but is mostly seen in children and young adults.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

Meningococcal Disease is NOT easily spread. It is passed on by close person to person contact through saliva: eg kissing, or sharing drink bottles, toothbrushes or cigarettes.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW ARE THEY TREATED?

Meningococcal infections can lead to meningitis, blood poisoning and other illnesses. Symptoms may include a sudden onset of fever, headache, tiredness, neck stiffness, vomiting or nausea, sore eyes, sensitivity to light, joint pain and a rash. Symptoms are often less specific in young children and may include fever, drowsiness, vomiting, being unsettled, and a rash. The rash is quite distinctive and may look like bleeding into the skin or purple-red spots. However, a rash does not always appear. IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION EARLY Most people recover completely from meningococcal disease with early antibiotic treatment. In a few individuals, the disease can be serious or life-threatening.

WHAT ABOUT CONTACTS?

Contacts are people who have been identified as having VERY close contact with a person who has the disease, such as family and household members, or those who have been exposed to the person's saliva. Contacts are offered a special antibiotic to kill the bacteria in the nose or throat  to reduce the risk of further cases. This antibiotic does NOT treat the disease but simply stops the likelihood of the bacteria being carried in the nose or throat. Different antibiotics are used if symptoms develop.

IS THERE A VACCINE?

Vaccines are available against come types of meningococcal disease. A vaccine is NOT available against serogroup B, the most common type in NSW. A meningococcal vaccine is given to travelers visiting countries where specific types of meningococci frequently cause disease (eg parts of Africa) and to persons with specific health problems (eg a person with no spleen) Rarely vaccines are used during outbreaks in confined environments (such as boarding schools, residential colleges, or military barracks) These vaccines are not part of the routinely recommended immunisation schedule, but are commercially available. People considering vaccination should seek advice from their General Practitioner.


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