Here’s What You Need To Know About Meningococcal Disease

5 min read
Here’s What You Need To Know About Meningococcal Disease

 As mums we all want what’s best for our kids – for them to be safe, happy and healthy.

Not only is it important to make sure they are up-to-date with all their immunisations, but you also need to be vigilant and keep an eye out for symptoms of illnesses they might not be immunised against.

When one of my daughters became ill unexpectedly, I learned that our kids aren’t immunised against all strains of meningococcal disease, even if they’ve had the routine vaccination at around 12 months old.

Meningococcal disease is a rare, but often life-threatening illness, caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord¹. It can be treated by antibiotics, but the infection can progress so rapidly that it can lead to death within 24 hours if it isn’t recognised quickly and treated in time.

Around one in ten who are infected with meningococcal disease may die. Even if children survive it, whilst rare, around one in five are at risk of serious long-term disabilities including brain damage, limb loss and deafness.

Most at risk of this dreadful disease are infants, young children and adolescents – especially babies under 12 months and toddlers and preschoolers aged 4 and under.

It’s really important for us all to try to understand the warning signs of potential health risks and that’s why I’m sharing this information with you about Meningococcal disease.


Know The Symptoms

Knowing what to look for can make all the difference if the worst should happen. Remember, time is not on your side if your child contracts meningococcal disease. The sooner they get medical attention, the better the outcome can be.

A recent survey from GSK, found that 41 per cent of people aren’t aware of the specific symptoms of meningococcal disease, while 22 per cent mistook the infection for other illnesses. Sixteen percent thought that it was flu, four per cent thought it was sunburn and two per cent thought it was cancer.

There are many different symptoms that may or may not appear when a person develops meningococcal disease. These are some of them:

  • fever
  • refusing to feed
  • irritable
  • grunting or moaning
  • extreme tiredness or floppiness
  • don’t want to be handled
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • turning away from light
  • photophobia
  • cold hands and feet despite having fever
  • drowsiness
  • convulsions (fits) or twitching
  • rash of red or purple pin prick spots or larger bruises

So a few years ago, one of my daughters came down with several of these symptoms while she was at daycare – she had a sore throat, a sudden fever, vomiting and had convulsions.

We took her to the GP who immediately sent us to the emergency department to see a pediatric registrar. We never actually got to the bottom of what was wrong with her – she literally danced out of the hospital a few hours later when she was feeling better. The hospital performed tests to see if she had meningococcal disease and were able to rule it out.

Here's What You Need To Know About Meningococcal Disease | Stay At Home Mum

The staff reassured us that we absolutely did the right thing in taking her in to hospital because those symptoms could have been linked to the life-threatening condition.

It’s important not to wait to see a doctor – even if the rash or bruising is not present, your child may still have meningococcal disease. And while some of the symptoms of the disease can be the same as other common childhood illnesses, it’s important to be vigilant – it’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t hesitate to see a doctor.

There are several strains of meningococcal disease and routine vaccinations don’t protect against every strain. They protect against one of several types of meningococcal disease, which means children are still at risk of other strains. However, it is possible to be protected against other types, helping to prevent meningococcal disease.

Know the facts when it comes to meningococcal disease – visit The Australian Department of Health for more information and ask your general practitioner for information on how to help protect your children against it.

The better informed we all are on meningococcal disease, the greater our chances are of protecting our children.

 This post aims to be informational and does not constitute professional medical advice, please see your GP for more information.

If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice

SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.

¹Meningococcal Australia
²CDC VPD manual Chapter 8: Meningococcal disease.
³Rosenstein NE et al. N Engl J Med 2001; 344(18): 137888; Thompson MJ et al. Lancet 2006; 367(9508): 397403.
¹·¹ Rosenstein NE et al. N Engl J Med 2001; 344(18): 137888.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR 2013; 62(RR02): 1-22.
¹·² Victoria State Government Better Health Channel

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About Author

Caroline Duncan

Caroline Duncan is a freelance journalist and photographer with almost 20 years' media experience in radio, magazines and online. She is also a mother...Read More of three daughters, and when she's not writing or taking pictures, she's extremely busy operating a taxi service running them around to various activities. She can't sew and hates housework. Read Less

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