Meningococcal disease invades the lining of the brain, or the bloodstream, or both. If caught early, the disease can be treated successfully with intravenous antibiotics.
A type of meningitis or septicemia, meningococcal disease is caused by the meningococcal bacteria, which can invade either the lining of the brain or the bloodstream or both.
Even those who have been vaccinated can still catch the disease because there’s still no protection against B strain. Those most at risk are babies and young children, teenagers and young adults up to the age of 25.
“Meningococcal disease is the most rapidly lethal infectious disease known to man.”
This incredibly virulent disease can kill in just a matter of a few hours. I’ve seen patients who have been well at breakfast, and dead by dinner.” says Dr Clay Golledge, Infectious Diseases Expert “Early diagnosis and appropriate management is absolutely vital.”
If caught early, it can be treated successfully with intravenous antibiotics but the disease is notoriously difficult to recognise in the early stages, and a delay in diagnosis and treatment can result in disabilities, or even death.
Most doctors will only see 1-2 cases of meningococcal disease in their entire career, so the first time they see a case, they’re likely to make a mistake. That’s why parents need to be aware of the symptoms, listen to their gut feelings, and if they’re worried, go and get a second opinion,” says Professor Robert Booy, Infectious Diseases Specialist.
“The most dangerous symptom is the rash in the later stages, usually starting with pink pinpricks or a small bruise, and developing into purple blotches at the final stage.
“Anyone with several of these symptoms should be seen by a doctor and be checked all over for signs of a rash. And whether there’s a rash or not, if there’s a suspicion of meningococcal disease, they should be treated straight away with intravenous penicillin,” Professor Booy says.
“Early antibiotics can mean the difference between life and death. Rest assured, the majority of meningococcal victims survive without any disability.”
“Whether there’s a rash or not, if there’s a suspicion of meningococcal disease, they should be treated straight away with intravenous penicillin”
Signs & Symptoms
Meningococcal disease is characterised by a sudden onset of illness and usually rapid deterioration, combined with several (or more) of the following symptoms:
- A high fever
- Cold shivers
- Cold hands or feet
- Tiredness and drowsiness
- Pain in the muscles or joints
- Nausea or vomiting
- Irritability or agitation
- Severe headache
- Stiff or painful neck
- Sensitivity to light
- Rapid breathing
- Pinprick or purple rash
In babies, however, these are some of the additional symptoms you may notice:
- Refusing solid feeds
- Pale complexion
- Unusual thirst
- Blank staring expression
- High pitched or moaning cry
- Arching of the back
- Tense or bulging fontanelle (at top of forehead)
5 GOLDEN RULES FOR PARENTS
- Watch for sudden onset of illness
- Beware of fever that doesn’t go down
- Inspect all over for rash or spots
- Trust your gut feeling
- Seek a second opinion if necessary
Interested to learn more about the meningococcal disease? Here’s what parents need to know about the new meningococcal vaccine (launched in 2018).