Following reports that an 18-year-old student celebrating 'schoolies' week on Queensland's Gold Coast has been hospitalised with meningococcal disease, health officials have warned schoolies that the after-effects of drinking or drug-taking could disguise the onset of the disease.
Queensland health workers are trying to contact 13 other students who may have had close and prolonged contact with the girl and say antibiotics will be offered to them.
Dr. Don Staines, Public Health Medical Officer at the Gold Coast Population Health Unit, says early symptoms of the disease may include vomiting, elevated temperature, headache, neck stiffness or a rash and discomfort when looking at bright lights.
Dr. Staines emphasises that any deterioration in the level of consciousness is a particularly dangerous sign, and says the schoolies period could complicate the issue as the symptoms and signs of meningococcal disease could easily be mistaken for alcohol or other drug-related effects.
Dr. Staines says awareness and vaccination are the best weapons against the rare but life-threatening disease and he has called for friends to look after each other and ensure they are not becoming seriously unwell.
He says the most important thing the community can do is be aware of symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if meningococcal disease is suspected.
Dr. Staines says schoolies have a much higher number of social contacts at this time of year with friends sleeping over and the sharing of accommodation, and in this respect there are more contacts that need to be followed up.
Mark Reaburn the chairman of the Schoolies Advisory Group, reports that there have been no major health problems in the main schoolies centre at Surfers Paradise and says Queensland Health have the situation under control.
Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream or meninges (a thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord) caused by the meningococcus germ. Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is more common in infants and children. For some adolescents, such as first-year college students living in dormitories, there is an increased risk of meningococcal disease. Other persons at increased risk include household contacts of a person known to have had this disease, immunocompromised people, and people traveling to parts of the world where meningococcal meningitis is prevalent.