You have probably heard of meningococcal disease, but could you identify the symptoms quickly enough if your child came down with the infection?
As paediatrician Dr Margie Danchin explains, knowing what to look out for could save your child’s life.
Dr Danchin works at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, where she sees concerned parents and very sick children every day.
“It’s a rare disease, but it’s very serious and can have devastating consequences,” Dr Danchin tells Mamamia. “And that’s why we want parents to know what to look out for and when to act.”
Meningococcal disease might be rare, but it is on the rise. In Australia in 2014 there were 168 cases and in 2016 there were 252. So far in 2017, there have been 210 cases.
The disease is caused by bacteria that can be carried in the throats and noses of about 10 percent of healthy people, who do not develop symptoms.
As Dr Danchin explains, it’s spread through close contact – saliva or droplets from the nose. Apart from children with certain medical conditions that places them at higher risk, teenagers and children aged under five are most at risk of contracting meningococcal disease.
“If treated early with antibiotics, an infected person can make a full recovery,” she says. “But sadly, 10 percent of cases end in death, while up to 20 percent result in permanent disability, such as loss of limbs or scarring from skin grafts, learning, visual and hearing difficulties.”
That’s why it’s so important to know the symptoms to look out for – and how they might differ based on how the meningococcal bacteria can infect the human body.
There are two ways that this happens: A) Through the bloodstream, or B) Through the lining around the brain and spinal cord.
So here’s what to know about both:
1. If meningococcal takes hold in the bloodstream it causes septicemia, sometimes known as blood poisoning. The symptoms may include:
– High fever with cold hands and feet
– Drowsiness, confusion or disorientation
– Severe aches and pains in the muscles
– Rapid breathing
– Pin prick red spots progressing to blotches and a more purple bruise-like rash.
The rash most people associate with meningococcal disease may not show up unless the bug is in the bloodstream.
“This is the one we want parents to identify more quickly,” Dr Danchin says. “Where you get that classic rash which can start with small pinprick red dots that can then develop into red blotches and bruises.
“This rash is actually bleeding into the skin. That’s because the bacteria is in the blood stream and it causes damage to the blood vessels and makes the blood vessels leaky and the blood leaks out into the skin.”
Parents need to act fast if they notice this rash, as Dr Danchin warns that a child with the rash present could be dead within hours.