Meningococcal cases are surging in Australia. A doctor and a mum share the signs to watch for.

Stephanie Ryder can recall the day meningococcal came into her life with absolute clarity. 

Her three-year-old son Chevy woke up his usual bouncy self at six in the morning, only to become increasingly unwell as the day progressed. 

"By 8am he was lying on the couch and didn't want to move or eat and he hardly spoke," Stephanie tells Mamamia.

"Chevy's temperature was close to 40 degrees and both Panadol and Nurofen wouldn't bring it down much. He was lethargic, and he began vomiting on and off all day. A home GP visited and explained that it was probably gastro so just to let him rest. 

"At 7pm, however, I noticed a handful of tiny purple blotches around his body when I was assessing his temperature and trying to encourage him to have some water. This is when we rushed him to the hospital."

Watch: Kyly Clarke on the signs to watch for with meningococcal. Post continues below.

Video via Know Meningococcal.

Chevy was diagnosed with invasive meningococcal disease (IMD), septicaemia (blood poisoning), multiple organ failure and swelling in his brain. 


He was placed in an induced coma for almost two weeks and was in the hospital for approximately five months to recover and receive treatment. While Chevy survived, he lost his right foot, left toes and left fingers. He has multiple scars and a lesion on his brain and seven years later, the effects of meningococcal will never end for him and his loving family.

"We recently found out his hearing has been affected and some of his bone growth plates, meaning he has had to have bone lengthening surgery. Our life has been flipped upside down, it is full of constant appointments and Chevy has been left with trauma and anxiety."

Chevy and his little sister. Image: Supplied.


Worryingly, cases of IMD are on the rise in Australia, and winter is one of the peak periods.

The latest data shows that from January to June 2023, reported cases of IMD have surged by a staggering 49 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a rise from 45 cases to 67 cases.

And there have been 14 new cases reported across Australia in July alone.

While IMD is caused by a rare bacterial infection, it can progress rapidly and may lead to death within 24 hours if not diagnosed early. Worryingly in a recent survey commissioned by GSK Australia, 74 per cent of respondents did not know how to spot symptoms of the disease.

Doctor Victoria Hayes, a GP with a special interest in immunisation, women's health, paediatrics, and preventative and chronic health care in Ashwood, Victoria, tells Mamamia about some of the early signs and symptoms of IMD that parents should watch for and when to seek advice.

"In the first few hours symptoms of meningitis are non-specific; fever, irritability, nausea and vomiting, a child may be off their feeds and experience headache or general aches," Dr Hayes explains.

"But after 8-12 hours things may progress to the classic haemorrhagic (purple-coloured) rash, and the child becomes floppy and less alert. After 12 hours symptoms may progress to the more recognised neck pain and stiffness, photophobia, drowsiness or confusion.


"Parents should always be aware and alert when their child is unwell. However, most fevers and irritability are viral and respond to symptomatic care. Parents should seek medical advice if their child is unwell with a fever, if things are progressing over time, and if they have a sense that something is not right."

Dr Hayes says that the surge in cases right now could be related to our return to normal life after years of extra caution and lockdown due to the COVID pandemic.

"Meningococcal meningitis numbers were reduced during COVID isolation for three years when we were at home and wearing masks and using hand sanitiser. Now we are out and about again numbers are climbing again. Cases in Australia usually increase in late winter and early spring and the case numbers in Australia are around 200 cases a year."

The important thing for parents and carers to note Dr Hayes says, is that treatment is possible with early recognition of signs and symptoms.

"Good hygiene practices are important in helping to prevent the spread of germs. Ceasing vaping or smoking is a good preventative action too and vaccination may also be a good option to help prevent meningococcal disease. 

"I would encourage parents and families to discuss their options with their healthcare professional to get the advice relevant to their personal situation and age."


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Mum Stephanie Ryder knows all too well the life-threatening issues that IMD creates and her now 10-year-old son Chevy is still dealing with the devastating consequences of the disease. 

She hopes to help other parents know how to spot the signs and symptoms and when to take their child to the hospital.

"I want other families to take this disease seriously," Stephanie says.

"Don’t be naïve and think it won't happen to you. Spend time understanding how it is contracted, how to prevent it, the signs and symptoms and the LIFELONG effects because a lot of people don’t realise they can't go back to the life they once had."

Dr Hayes says that parents and carers should always seek medical advice if they are unsure and be aware of the signs and symptoms of IMD when assessing their unwell kids at home. 

While meningococcal disease can occur at any age, infants and young children (less than two years of age), followed by adolescents between 15-19 years of age, are most at risk.

"Most people do survive meningococcal; however, early recognition and treatment offers the best chance of recovery. If meningococcal disease is not diagnosed or treated quickly, it can lead to serious long-term disability or death within 24 hours: it may cause death in 1 in 10 patients. 


"Serious ongoing health issues may occur in 1 in 5. I would recommend speaking to your healthcare professional for more information about meningococcal disease and how you can help protect your family."

Karen Quick, CEO of Meningitis Centre Australia says we need to be raising awareness of IMD in line with other seasonal infections, so Australians are equipped with the knowledge that may help save lives.  

"During this season of viral infections such as flu and COVID-19, it's crucial to remember that meningococcal disease is also at its peak. All Australians should watch for meningococcal symptoms," Ms Quick advises.

“With the change of season, we have another opportunity to remind parents about the signs and symptoms of this disease, so they can act immediately and seek urgent medical attention.”

For more information about meningococcal, speak to your healthcare professional and visit

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Senior Lifestyle Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied/Canva.

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