Meningococcal disease: peak season warning

West Australians are being urged to watch out for the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease as the State heads into the peak season for the potentially deadly infection.

Communicable Disease Control Directorate Medical Director, Dr Shirley Bowen, said the disease was most common in winter and spring.

"Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening infection that affects about 70 people in Western Australia each year," Dr Bowen said.

"Of these 70 cases, an average of four people die and about eight others will suffer some permanent disability such as amputation or deafness.

"It is important that people familiarise themselves with the symptoms of meningococcal disease, as early treatment may be life saving.

"While it is not very common, the speed of the disease makes it particularly dangerous.

"With prompt treatment, most people make a full recovery."

Meningococcal disease can occur at any age, but about 45 per cent of cases in WA are less than five years of age and another 25 per cent are aged 15 to 24 years. Young children are particularly vulnerable as they cannot easily complain of lethargy and headache.

Common symptoms of meningococcal disease in babies include fever, rapid breathing, vomiting, irritability, drowsiness, and pallor.

The typical meningococcal rash is often a late sign and concerned parents should not wait to seek help if they are concerned by a rapid deterioration in their child’s wellbeing.

Symptoms in older children and adults include fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, drowsiness, confusion, and rash.

Dr Bowen said the rash of meningococcal disease was not always present, and took a variety of forms. It may appear as small bleeding points under the skin, or resemble bruises. It is a very serious sign and the public should seek urgent medical assistance.

"The early symptoms can be hard to distinguish from other less serious illnesses, but in meningococcal disease there can be rapid deterioration," she said.

"We urge sick adults and parents of ill children to revisit their doctor or the hospital urgently if the symptoms worsen and they are concerned that it might be meningococcal disease."

Dr Bowen said parents and adults should consider getting themselves and their children vaccinated against meningococcal C disease.

Although the meningococcal C vaccine is very effective against meningococcal C, it is completely ineffective against meningococcal B, the most common type, and children who are vaccinated against meningococcal C can still catch meningococcal B.

"Even if a person is vaccinated against meningococcal C, it is important that they know the symptoms of meningococcal disease and immediately see their doctor or go to the nearest hospital if they develop these symptoms," Dr Bowen said.

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