Look out for symptoms of meningococcal disease

Wednesday November 23, 2016

​​​General Practice teams are being reminded to be on the lookout for symptoms of meningococcal disease, following three young Canterbury children being diagnosed.

The three cases are aged 13 months and two are aged four years old. All developed meningococcal disease in the past fortnight but have all since been discharged from hospital.

Dr Ramon Pink, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says meningococcal disease can develop rapidly.

"It's really important to recognise the signs and symptoms as early as possible because, if left too late, the disease can cause death or permanent disability, such as deafness," Dr Pink says.

"It can affect anyone – but it's more common in children under the age of five, teenagers, and young adults. Students in their first year of tertiary education living in student accommodation may also be at higher risk."

Dr Pink says it can be treated with antibiotics, but early treatment is very important.

"If you notice any of the symptoms of meningococcal disease or have any other concerns phone your General Practice team, even if you have already been seen by a health professional.

"Remember you can call your usual General Practice number 24/7 for care around the clock. After hours your call will be answered by a nurse who can advise you on what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.

"You're better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you seek medical advice early."

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis.

"Meningococcal bacteria are difficult to catch as they don't live for very long outside the body. They pass from one person to another through secretions from the nose or throat, during close or prolonged contact such as kissing or from sharing food, drinks and utensils."

Symptoms of meningococcal disease include:

  • ​​Rapid onset of symptoms​​
  • Fever, usually > 38°C
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Headache, sensitive to light
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • ​​​​muscle or leg pain
  • Confusion or reduced level of consciousness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Abnormal skin tone such as pale or blotchy
  • A rash​​

In infants, additional symptoms and signs can include:​

  • Poor feeding or not waking for feeds
  • Irritability or a high pitched cry
  • Bulging fontanelle (soft spots on a baby's skull), neck retraction with back arching
  • Fever with cool extremities (hands and feet)

Find more information about meningococcal disease on the healthinfo Canterbury website www.healthinfo.org.nz/Meningitis-meningococcal-disease.htm ​

Page last reviewed: 23 November 2016
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