Meningococcal disease struck Western Australia during the past week. Two cases of the meningitis form of the disease was reported by health authorities where one patient, a teenager is recovering from the disease while unfortunately, a young child died from the infection on the weekend.
The Department of Health has identified close contacts of both children and provided them with information, and, where appropriate, antibiotics that minimise the chance that the organism might be passed on to others.
These are the 17th and 18th meningococcal meningitis cases reported in WA this year.
Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness due to a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.
Meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by about 10-20 per cent of the population at any one time. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream and cause serious infections.
Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person-to-person. The bacterium is present in droplets discharged from the nose and throat when coughing or sneezing, but is not spread by saliva and does not survive more than a few seconds in the environment.
Invasive meningococcal infection is most common in babies and young children, and older teenagers and young adults, but infection can occur at any age.
Symptoms may include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and severe muscle and joint pains. Young children may not complain of symptoms, so fever, pale or blotchy complexion, vomiting, lethargy (blank staring, floppiness, inactivity, hard to wake, or poor feeding) and rash are important signs.
Sometimes – but not always – symptoms may be accompanied by the appearance of a spotty red-purple rash that looks like small bleeding points beneath the skin or bruises.
Although treatable with antibiotics, the infection can progress very rapidly, so it is important that anyone experiencing these symptoms seeks medical attention promptly. With appropriate treatment, most people with meningococcal disease recover, although around 5% will die and around 15% may experience complications such as hearing loss, or gangrene requiring skin grafts or amputations.