Meningococcal disease – Australia

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An adult has been diagnosed in Western Australia with meningococcal serogroup B disease and is recovering at home.

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, but life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain, and occasionally of other sites, such as the throat, lungs or large joints.

Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person to person. The bacterium is present in droplets discharged from the nose and throat when coughing or sneezing but is not spread by saliva and does not survive more than a few seconds in the environment.

Meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by about 10 to 20% of the population. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream or tissues and cause serious infections. 

Although treatable with antibiotics, meningococcal infection can progress very rapidly. With appropriate treatment, most people with the disease recover.

A vaccine to protect against 4 serogroups exists.

Photo: single N. meningitidis cell (blue) with its adhesive pili (yellow).

Symptoms may be accompanied by the appearance of a spotty red-purple rash that looks like small bleeding points beneath the skin or bruises. Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease may include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and severe muscle and joint pains. Young children may not complain of symptoms, so fever, pale or blotchy complexion, vomiting, lethargy (inactivity), poor feeding and rash are important signs.

It is important that anyone experiencing these symptoms seeks medical attention promptly.

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