BY CATHERINE HEUZENROEDER
The parents of a Riverland girl recovering from meningococcal B are using social media to raise awareness of the potentially deadly disease.
Sarah and Aaron Parkyn know how easily they could have missed the first signs their three-year-old daughter Jazmyn had the disease.
This knowledge has driven them to share their story with others.
They have launched a petition for a publicly-funded vaccine and warn it was only a mother’s instinct and the quick response by a local GP which saved their daughter.
Just five days after Jazmyn became unwell, and while still in hospital keeping vigil against the invasive disease, the Renmark couple reached out to make a difference.
They launched a Facebook page, Jazmyn’s Meningococcal B Journey, and shared a timeline and photos documenting the rapid onset of a disease which claims the lives of between five and 10 per cent of sufferers, according to SA Health.
Even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, meningococcal B can cause significant disability including scarring, brain injury, deafness and the amputation of limbs or hands and feet.
“[We want] all parents to be vigilant and seek medical attention if any of the meningococcal symptoms present themselves,” Mr Parkyn posted on the social media page.
“Early action and treatment is the number one factor to save your child’s life.”
Quick progression of disease
The progression of Jazmyn’s meningococcal B was swift.
On the night of August 25, the bright preschooler showed flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature.
Her parents were not overly concerned as the rest of the family, which includes Jazmyn’s two older sisters, had been unwell with influenza B.
The next morning, amid the activity of getting her eldest children to school, Ms Parkyn noticed Jazmyn was showing discomfort when her legs were touched and that she had what appeared to be a heat rash.
“The next step saved our little girl’s life, as Sarah decided to see the doctor just to be on the safe side,” Mr Parkyn wrote.
At 10am that morning the doctor examined Jazmyn and detected a small, pin-prick sized dot on her chest.
During the examination a second mark appeared.
“The doctor immediately sent Jaz to hospital for monitoring, [which was] the second step that saved her life,” Mr Parkyn wrote.
Related: Read a fact sheet on meningococcal here.
By early that afternoon Jazmyn’s condition had deteriorated and a distinctive purple patchy rash rapidly spread over her arms and legs.
She was air-lifted to the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital for intensive care.
“It is only due to a mother’s intuition and knowledge of her kids, and the amazing doctor that detected the slight symptoms and reacted with immediate action that contributed to Jazmyn being alive today,” Mr Parkyn wrote.
Parents want to educate and campaign for a vaccine
Today Jazmyn is recovering in Adelaide, receiving treatment for pain management and to reduce the risk of infection.
Family friends, Emma Warner and Rachel Morrison, have launched a crowd funding page to raise money for the Parkyn family.
It has received more than $7,000 in donations to help the family with expenses.
“We don’t know yet about her plastic surgery (secondary to possible complications from the rash). There will be costs there and this will help them out greatly,” Ms Morrison said.
The Parkyn family has launched a petition calling for a newly-available private vaccine for meningococcal B to be made available on the National Immunisation Program for children.
The petition had attracted 870 supporters at the time of writing.
Related: Two brave families share their struggles with meningococcal.
Chairman of the Riverland Division of GPs and Waikerie-based doctor Ian Gartley said meningococcal C was included on the childhood immunisation schedule in 2003.
“Meningococcal disease type B is by far the more common cause of meningococcal disease now that meningococcal disease group C is much reduced, due to the immunisation program,” Dr Gartley told Narelle Graham on ABC 1062 Riverland.
He said the B strain vaccine needed to be administered in two doses, and that babies under the age of 12 months required an additional booster shot.
“They can access the vaccine by seeing their local doctor and requesting it,” he said of the vaccine.
“It is reasonably expensive [and] demand and uptake has not been great, one because of lack of publicity and one because of expense.”
Dr Gartley recommended the vaccine on the basis that meningococcal B was difficult to differentiate from influenza.
He said that there were some slight differences to look for.
These include not having a runny nose but having a fever, with cold hands and feet, and having a distinctive rash which looks like tiny little bruising spots that do not blanche (turn white) when pressed.
“Winter and spring are traditionally the time when most cases present,” he said.
“It can be very serious.”
If someone presents with any symptoms of a meningococcal infection, getting medical help as soon as possible is vital and parents are warned not to wait for a rash to develop if they think their child might be infected.
What is meningococcal disease?
- Meningococcal disease is a life-threatening illness caused by a number of strains of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis.
- The bacterium is commonly found in the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and windpipe) of infected people and is spread between people through contact.
- About one in 10 people who are infected with the disease will die from it.
- There are 13 strains of meningococcal disease globally.
- Meningococcal B and C are the most common in Australia.
- Both C and B strains are preventable by vaccination in Australia, with meningococcal C strain vaccination currently recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation.
Sourced from Immunise Australia Program website.
Symptoms of meningococcal disease
Common symptoms in babies and young children include:
- refusing to take feeds
- child difficult to wake
- high-pitched or moaning cry
- tiny red or purple spots that soon spread and enlarge to look like fresh bruises
- pale or blotchy skin
- abnormal skin colour
- leg pain
- cold hands and feet.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.