10 facts about meningococcal disease that could save your child's life.

Meningococcal Australia
Thanks to our brand partner, Meningococcal Australia

Healthy at breakfast, fighting for your life by dinner time: that’s how they describe this disease.

Meningococcal disease, while relatively rare, is one most of us have heard of, but we’re often unsure of exactly what it does – which in many cases, is kill, with a frightening ferocity.

There is really an important message Meningococcal Australia want you to know – that many of the deaths from meningococcal disease could have been prevented with an earlier diagnosis.

That’s why the experts are encouraging us to talk about it and to share information – so we can ensure anyone with the first symptoms can get treated in time to save their lives.

Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert from the University of Sydney and the Professor of Paediatrics at Westmead Children’s Hospital, has a quarter of a century’s worth of experience with researching meningococcal disease.

He has been involved in hundreds of meningococcal disease cases and is passionate about increasing awareness of the disease.

He urges parents to understand and share these 10 important facts about this potentially devastating disease.

1. Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection.

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can appear in several different forms, depending on which part of the body the bacteria invade: meningitis, affecting the brain and spinal cord, or septicemia, which affects the blood. You can also contract a combination of both.

2. Do not wait for the purple rash to appear before seeking treatment.

The meningococcal rash indicates bleeding into the skin.  The rash may start with a simple spot or rash anywhere on the body, then may progress quickly to red pinpricks like small mosquito bites, and/or spread quickly into purple bruise like blotches.

It is important that you seek treatment before the rash develops, or as early as possible after it develops, but Professor Booy says while parents need to recognise the urgency of the rash, it’s also important they understand that “a majority of people survive and survive without complications or long term problems.”

3. Babies may have a bulging fontanelle.

Symptoms in babies and young children may include fever, irritability or lethargy, a refusal to eat, a high-pitched cry, and a bulging fontanelle (also known as the ‘soft spot’ on a baby’s head).


It's important to know the signs. Image via iStock.

4. Spring and winter are the peak times that the bacteria is spread.

So now is the time to ensure your vaccinations are up to date.

5. You catch it through mucus.

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria and transmitted via mucus. Meningococcal bacteria can live harmlessly in our throat and nose - in fact, up to 20 per cent of people carry these bacteria.

The bacteria can be spread by activities such as intimate kissing, coughing and sneezing - but close prolonged contact is usually needed to pass it on.

6. There are several different strains of meningococcal disease.

The one almost all of us have heard of (as we all get our kids immunised against it with the free vaccine on the national immunisation program given at 12 months) is the C strain. But there are several other strains of the disease in Australia.

"The one we have all heard of (as we all get our kids immunised against it) is the C strain. But there are four other strains, with the most common being the B strain." Image via iStock.

7. Patients with meningococcal disease need urgent treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

It’s important not to wait for the rash before seeking medical assistance if you think something is wrong. If the rash appears, in conjunction with other symptoms such as a high fever and muscle/joint aches, call an ambulance or see your GP urgently for urgent treatment.

8. The most at-risk are babies and toddlers as well as teenagers.

Babies and children up to age five account for up to two-thirds of cases. The next danger group is teenagers and young adults from 15 to 24 years, because they are more prone to close social contact.

9. It can kill within 24 hours.

This is the scary bit. While many cases are caught in time, this disease works fast. So we need to work fast as well.

10. Trust your instincts, parents.

Professor Booy says that parents need to trust their instincts. If your child is unwell, listless, complaining of headache, or just seems off, it’s time to see the GP.

Let’s share these important facts and get our friends and family talking about meningococcal disease.

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Anyone wanting more information about meningococcal disease should talk to their doctor and visit

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