Experts remind to watch out for early signs of invasive meningococcal disease as we enter peak season
- Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) cases in Australia continue to rise, with a 49% increase from January to June of 2023 when compared to the same period last year (45 cases vs 67 cases).1
- Meningococcal disease is a rare but potentially devastating infection that can progress rapidly, most people do survive however it may lead to serious disability or death if not diagnosed early.4,8
- Early signs and symptoms may be difficult to diagnose as they can be easily mistaken for a cold or flu, such as fever, extreme tiredness and refusal to eat.3,4
- Infectious disease expert Professor Robert Booy says, “I encourage everyone, especially parents of young children, to learn more about meningococcal disease.”
Amidst the height of the season for infectious diseases like a cold, flu and COVID-19, health expert Professor Robert Booy is reminding Australians to stay vigilant for the signs and symptoms of a potentially debilitating disease that, whilst rare, can be devastating; invasive meningococcal disease (IMD).
IMD is a rare bacterial infection which can progress rapidly and may lead to death within 24 hours if not diagnosed early.3 Early signs and symptoms including fever, extreme tiredness, and refusal to eat may be difficult to diagnose as they can be easily mistaken for a cold or flu. Other symptoms may include diarrhoea, cold hands and feet, sensitivity to light, pale or blotchy skin, and vomiting.3,4 In the later stages of meningococcal disease the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels. This can cause a dark purple rash; however, the rash may not always appear.8 Although meningococcal disease can occur at any age, babies less than 2, followed by adolescents aged 15 to 19, are most at risk.7 Most people who contract meningococcal disease survive, but it’s important that the disease is diagnosed and treated quickly.3,4 Up to one in ten of those infected may die, and up to one in five survivors may develop serious long-term complications, including brain damage, deafness or loss of limbs.3
From a recent survey commissioned by GSK Australia, which includes a sample group of 300 Australian parents, the majority (74%) of respondents did not know or had some vague knowledge that early symptoms of meningococcal disease may be hard to recognise and can easily be mistaken for a cold.2
Campaign ambassador and a celebrity blogger Mel Watts, says she considers herself incredibly fortunate for acting early when her then four-year-old son Ayden started feeling unwell.
“I was at work when I was called by Ayden’s preschool to say he wasn’t acting himself, he was just very tired. Nothing to worry them too much but not himself. I left work early to get him and I could see he visibly looked unwell; however, not bad enough for me to panic. He had a vomit as we left which I assumed would be a virus he’d picked up.”
“I got him a doctor’s appointment and the doctor said it looked like a common virus. I can remember so vividly looking at him on the couch and just knowing in my gut he was really unwell. My husband and I took him up to the ED where he began to decline rapidly.”
“I’ve never been so scared and felt so helpless. But I was relieved to see him smile again and recover well after receiving the treatment he needed. I felt very fortunate to have followed my gut,” Mel expressed gratefully.
Infectious diseases expert, Professor Robert Booy says, when it comes to meningococcal disease, it is easy to downplay the risks.
“Given the rare nature of the infection the perception of risk among people is often low. But I encourage everyone, especially parents of young children, to learn more about meningococcal disease. It is important to have an informed conversation with their GP,” says Professor Booy.
“If contracted, meningococcal disease can have devastating consequences, including life-long disabilities. We can reduce its impact by educating people about the signs and symptoms to look out for and acting on them early.”
According to the GSK survey, the majority (80%) of respondents did not know or had some vague knowledge that IMD can have devastating consequences (for example, hearing or limb loss).2 While it is rare, with the risk being higher in young children followed by adolescents, more than a quarter of (27%) Australian parents surveyed believed their children are not at all likely to catch IMD.2
When compared to the same period in 2022, we have seen a 49% increase in cases in the period between January-June 2023 (45 cases vs 67 cases).1 The prevalence of IMD declined during 2020-2021 as lockdowns restricted movement and travel.1 But as Australians are continuing to travel and become more mobile, IMD circulation in the community is increasing.
Karen Quick, CEO of Meningitis Centre Australia says we need to be raising awareness of IMD in line with other seasonal infections, so Australians are equipped with the knowledge that may help save lives.
"During this season of viral infections such as flu and COVID-19, it's crucial to remember that meningococcal disease is also at its peak. All Australians should watch for meningococcal symptoms," Ms Quick advises.
“For over 30 years Meningitis Centre Australia has been working hard to make information about meningococcal disease easily available to help parents understand the risk their children may face,” said Ms Quick. “With the change of season, we have another opportunity to remind parents about the signs and symptoms of this disease, so they can act immediately and seek urgent medical attention.”
For more information about meningococcal, speak to your healthcare professional and visit www.knowmeningococcal.com.au/
About invasive meningococcal disease
Invasive meningococcal disease is a rare bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.3 There are 13 known serogroups (strains) that can cause the disease. The most common serogroups globally are A, B, C, W, X and Y.3 In Australia, strains B, W and Y cause the majority of disease.6
While most will survive and recover, this rare but devastating infection can progress rapidly and lead to serious disability (up to 1 in 5 who survive the disease may suffer long-term complications, including brain damage, deafness or loss of limb) or death (up to in 1 in 10 infected may die) within 24 hours. 3
While meningococcal disease can occur at any age, infants and young children (< 2 years of age), followed by adolescents between 15-19 years of age, are most at risk.7
Early signs and symptoms including fever, extreme tiredness and refusal to eat may be difficult to diagnose as they can be easily mistaken for a common cold. Other symptoms may also include diarrhoea, cold hands and feet, sensitivity to light, pale or blotchy skin, vomiting.3,4 In the later stages of meningococcal disease the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and multiply, damaging the walls of the blood vessels. This can cause a dark purple rash; however, it may not always appear.8
Cases of meningococcal disease can occur all year round with peak seasons being winter and spring.8
GSK is a science-led global healthcare company. For further information please visit www.gsk.com/about-us
About the survey
On behalf of GSK, ZS (an independent market research agency and consultancy) conducted online survey among 300 Australian parents aged 20-45 years with children aged between 2 months to 5 years of age, who chose to take part in the survey in October 2022. The purpose of this survey was to measure and understand awareness and perceptions of meningococcal disease among parents, attitudes and discussion about meningococcal disease as well as measuring the impact of the meningococcal disease awareness campaign. There were 88% of female and 22% of male respondents. All participants do not work in or have a close family member who works in either market research or the pharmaceutical industry. Please note that the recruited sample is not a representation of the entire nation, Australia.
Media enquiries GSK enquiries
- National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/nndss-public-dataset-meningococcal-disease-invasive [Accessed July 2023]
- ZS Meningococcal Disease Survey October 2022. GSK Data on File REF-202325
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal Disease Signs and Symptoms, https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/symptoms.html [Accessed July 2023].
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Meningococcal infection. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Meningococcal_infection/ [Accessed July 2023].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal Disease causes and how it spreads. https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/causes-transmission.html. [Accessed July 2023].
- Lahra M et al. Commun Dis Intell (2018) 2022;46 https://doi.org/10.33321/cdi.2022.46.46
- Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra, 2022. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/contents/vaccine-preventable-diseases/meningococcal-disease [Accessed July 2023].
- NSW Health, Meningococcal disease fact sheet, 8 August 2022. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/meningococcal_disease.aspx, [Accessed July 2023]
The Know Meningococcal campaign is produced by GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd.