Meningococcal disease describes infections caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a high-mortality rate illness if untreated but a vaccine-preventable condition. While best known as a cause of meningitis, widespread blood infection can result in sepsis, which is a more damaging and dangerous condition.
Meningococcal disease describes infections caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, a high-mortality rate illness if untreated but a vaccine-preventable condition. While best known as a cause of meningitis, widespread blood infection can result in sepsis, which is a more damaging and dangerous condition. Hailshadow

MENINGOCOCCAL: Peak season for deadly disease approaches

WITH two cases already reported in the area this year and the peak period for the disease still more than a month away, Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) is urging people to be alert to lesser known signs of the illness.

NSW Health's Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said meningococcal can often mimic other common illnesses, so it is important people be aware nearer spring that 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 could be the last symptom to take shape," said Dr Sheppeard.

The medico said meningococcal infection does not spread easily. It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. Close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on.

"It more commonly occurs in people aged between 15-24 years as they tend to be involved in more intimate social activities such as kissing," said Dr Sheppeard.

Vaccination is the best means of protection against meningococcal disease.

Vaccination for meningococcal disease types A, C, W and Y, is available on the National Immunisation Program for infants at 12 months of age and for adolescents in Year 10 through the School-based Vaccination Program offered to all high schools across NSW.

Any adolescents aged 15 to 19 years who miss the vaccine in school are eligible for a free vaccine from their GP. However, as there are several strains of meningococcal disease, and vaccination does not cover all strains, even vaccinated people need to be on the lookout for symptoms.

Director North Coast Public Health Unit, Paul Corben, said meningococcal disease can occur at any time of year but cases normally start to increase towards the end of flu season when people's immune systems are weaker from viruses.

"Last year there were nine reported cases of meningococcal disease," said Mr Corben.

The latest Annual Immunisation Report shows vaccination rates in NSW are at their highest level ever, with close to 95 per cent of five year olds fully vaccinated.