Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious illness that usually affects babies and young children, adolescents and young adults.

There are several strains of the bacteria that can cause meningococcal disease (A, B, C, W and Y). In NSW, the most common strain is the B strain.

Meningococcal disease can develop within hours of symptoms first appearing and can be fatal. Winter and spring are the peak seasons for meningococcal disease in NSW.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Pin-prick rash changing to large red-purple blotches
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Limb/joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Dislike of bright lights

A rash does not always appear and not all of the symptoms of meningococcal disease may be present at once.

If students present with these signs or symptoms, parents/carers should be contacted and immediate medical care sought.

People with symptoms should seek medical care again if the illness gets worse, even if this is shortly after the previous visit.

Informing the school community

The ideal time to communicate information about meningococcal disease to parents, staff and students is in June or July, just before the annual peak of meningococcal disease that is normally seen in NSW in late winter to spring. An annual item in the school's newsletter around this time each year can help to reinforce important messages.

Meningococcal Disease Advice Poster from NSW Health provides text for including in school newsletters.

A more detailed fact sheet is available. The fact sheet also comes in translated versions.

It is important that principals contact the local public health unit on 1300 066 055 about any outbreak of meningococcal disease at their school.

Vaccination

Several vaccines against meningococcal disease are available in Australia. Vaccination against meningococcal C is included in the national Immunisation Program Schedule.  It is recommended for all children at one year of age (as part of free routine immunisation).

A vaccine against some serogroup B strains has recently become available in Australia, it is recommended for young children and adolescents but is not part of the National Immunisation Program.

Vaccines against other strains of the disease are recommended for persons travelling internationally to areas where epidemics of meningococcal A, C, W and Y occur. Vaccines against strains of meningococcal disease are also recommended for people at occupational risk of meningococcal disease.

As not all strains are covered by vaccines, it is very important to stay on the lookout for symptoms, even if the child has been immunised.

Schools and parents can contact their local public health unit for further information on meningococcal disease.

Related information

NSW Health Immunisation

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