How to identify the signs and symptoms.
Meningococcal Australia director Kirsten Baker had meningococcal septicaemia at age 26, and says she was fortunate to walk away intact as she got medical treatment early. Here she explains what parents need to look out for.
his two-minute video covers the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease, vaccinations and when to get help. It’s suitable viewing for the whole family and may just save your life.
What are the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection. It presents as either meningococcal septicaemia or meningococcal meningitis, or sometimes a combination of the two. While both start off with cold and flu-like symptoms, there are additional warning signs.
Meningococcal Septicaemia (blood poisoning):
- Cold shivers, chills, cold hands or feet, change in skin colour
- Sudden, severe pain in arms, legs, joints or stomach
- Fever, thirst, nausea, vomiting, maybe diarrhoea
- Drowsiness, loss of consciousness, rapid breathing
Meningococcal Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spine):
- Severe headache
- Stiff or painful neck
- Sensitivity to light
- Drowsiness, loss of consciousness, fits
A rash may develop as a later symptom for both meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. Don’t wait for a rash. It can start off as red pin pricks (like a blood blister), but will quickly develop into a dark purple rash, covering most of the body.
With the symptoms being so similar to that of the common cold and flu, how can parents know when to visit their GP?
Meningococcal strikes people at any age. You should start to worry when:
- A fever is persistent and not responding to paracetamol.
- You know in your gut something isn’t right – trust your instincts.
- In young babies the fontanel (soft spot on top of the baby’s head) is bulging, there can be a shrill or moaning cry, blank staring expression or fretfulness, refusing to feed, arching of the back/neck, or floppy.
- The person is incredibly drowsy and seems a bit out of it.
- The person complains of any of the symptoms mentioned above, accompanied by a fever and not being themselves.
If you suspect meningococcal disease get help immediately, even if it’s the middle of the night. If you wait until the morning the person could be dead.
What are the long-term effects of meningococcal disease?
In Australia, there are between 200 to 250 cases of meningococcal disease each year. About 10 per cent of those infected will die, while 20 per cent are left with permanent disabilities. These include loss of fingers and toes, amputated limbs, skin grafts and scarring, decreased organ function, particularly kidneys and liver, sight and hearing issues, learning difficulties, brain damage, difficulty concentrating, and persistent headaches. In children, their growth plates may not develop properly meaning further operations such as to lengthen and straighten limbs.
How can parents protect their kids?
Parents can best protect their kids through vaccinations and knowledge of the symptoms. Good hygiene is important too and includes disposing of tissues in the bin after using them, turning away to cough, regularly washing your hands, and not sharing drinks and food.
Who is most at risk?
While anyone of any age can contract meningococcal disease, there are two groups who are more at risk. The first group is babies and young children, up to the age of about five. This is because of their tendency to put objects in their mouths, which can spread germs. The second group is young adults in their early twenties. This is due to their social lifestyle of going out, sharing drinks and food, intimate kissing and so forth, which also increases the risk of spreading of germs. During the winter months, the rate of meningococcal cases almost doubles, as there are more viruses floating around. More people are coughing and sneezing, and people’s immune systems tend to be a little less robust. These combined factors make people more susceptible to picking up a bacterial infection, such as meningococcal disease.
Who can get vaccinated against meningococcal disease?
Everyone over two months of age can be vaccinated against meningococcal disease. When talking to your doctor about your child’s vaccinations, remember to ask about yourself as well. Currently children receive the meningococcal C vaccine as part of the 12-month National Immunisation Program. However, it’s meningococcal B that is responsible for 84 per cent of all cases of meningococcal disease in Australia. Since March 2014, there’s now a vaccine for meningococcal B. As yet, this is not part of the National Immunisation Program, which means you need to talk to your doctor about the vaccine.
What should parents do if they suspect their child has meningococcal disease?
If parents suspect their child has meningococcal disease, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait for a rash to appear; don’t wait for the next morning. Antibiotic treatment in hospital is required. Tell your doctor you suspect meningococcal disease, and if you’re not satisfied with their opinion, talk to them about why you still have concerns. Ask to stay for monitoring, and if you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, get a second opinion. Monitor the symptoms by writing them down on paper. If it’s the middle of the night and medical centres are closed, go to your local hospital. Every hour counts.
3 Must-Dos For Parents
• KNOW the signs & symptoms.
• CHECK your vaccinations are up to date.
• ACT immediately if you suspect meningococcal disease. Ask the doctor to rule it out.
For more information check out www.meningococcal.org.au