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Invasive meningococcal disease cases already surpassing 2021 total figures

  • Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) cases are on the rise in Australia, as shown in the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System’s data, with the total number of cases to the end of September 2022 (86 cases) exceeding last year’s total (74 cases).1
  • IMD is a rare bacterial infection, which can progress rapidly. Most people survive IMD, however, if it is not treated quickly, it may cause serious disability or loss of life within 24 hours.2,3
  • Up to 1 in 10 people infected with IMD may die, and up to 1 in 5 survivors may develop serious long-term complications, including brain damage, deafness or loss of limbs.3
  • Babies (less than 2 years of age), and adolescents (15–19 years of age) are most vulnerable to the disease.4
  • Early signs and symptoms may be difficult to diagnose as they can easily be mistaken for a common cold, for example high fever or lethargy.2

Medical experts, patient advocacy groups and high-profile Australians are partnering with GSK Australia to help raise community awareness about invasive meningococcal disease (IMD).

This educational initiative is focused on the signs, symptoms and risk factors of this rare, but potentially devastating disease. The initiative encourages people to speak to their healthcare professional for more information about meningococcal disease, given the total cases reported to end September 20221 have already exceed last year’s total cases for the full year (86 cases as of end September 2022, 74 cases in 2021).

The prevalence of IMD declined during 2020-2021 as lockdowns restricted movement and travel1. But as Australians travel and become more mobile, IMD circulation in the community is increasing, thereby posing a risk to children and adolescents, who are most at risk of the disease.

Infectious diseases paediatrician, Professor Robert Booy, says it is critical for families to know signs and symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease and that an awareness campaign like this is being rolled out at a perfect time.

“Given we are experiencing an increased level of population movements, I encourage everyone, especially parents of young children, to be talking to their doctor about invasive meningococcal disease. It can strike anyone, and we already see an increase in meningococcal disease cases locally and in other countries, like UK, where the number of cases are nearing pre-pandemic levels,” says Professor Booy.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to minimising the potentially lethal consequences of IMD. We can reduce its impact by educating people about the signs and symptoms to look out for. Confusing the symptoms with a common cold for example, can put the life of loved ones at risk.”

IMD is a rare bacterial infection which can progress rapidly. Early signs and symptoms may be difficult to diagnose as they can easily be mistaken for a common cold, for example high fever or lethargy.2 Most people who contract meningococcal disease survive, but it’s important that it is diagnosed and treated quickly.5 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  

Meningococcal disease can occur at any age, however, babies (under 2 year of age) and adolescents (15–19 years of age) are most vulnerable to the disease, which is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. This generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria.4  

GSK Australia has partnered with Australian medical experts, patient advocates and ambassadors to help spread the word on digital media and a dedicated website (https://knowmeningococcal.com.au/).

The campaign ambassador Felicity Harley, an author, host of Body + Soul's 'Healthy-ish’ podcasts and wife of an AFL legend Tom Harley, has her own family experience of IMD, as her son Hugo contracted the disease at the age of five weeks old.

“I still vividly remember driving my listless and incredibly ill baby to the hospital and not knowing if he would live. Acting quickly on the first symptoms may have saved his life,” said Ms Harley.

“I cannot imagine where Hugo and our whole family would be now if those signs were missed. I urge all parents to keep meningococcal disease signs and symptoms front of mind.”

Karen Quick, CEO of Meningitis Centre Australia, says she is pleased to see increasing attention to community education around IMD.

“For over 30 years Meningitis Centre Australia has been working hard to make information about IMD easily available to help parents understand the risk their children may face,” said Ms Quick. “Now more than ever with the increase in IMD cases, parents need to know the signs and symptoms of this disease, so they can act immediately, save lives and avoid potential long-term disability. This information is easily accessible on our website.”

“Meningococcal is a devastating disease for Australians and their families. If contracted, it can cause significant impact on the whole community. It is wonderful to see so many people joining forces to raise awareness, educate the community and encourage people to talk to their healthcare professional.”

For more information about meningococcal, speak to your healthcare professional and visit https://knowmeningococcal.com.au/

About Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD)

IMD is a rare bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis.2 There are 13 known serogroups (strains) that can cause the disease. The most common serogroups globally are A, B, C, W, and Y.6 In Australia, strains B, W and Y cause the majority of the meningococcal disease cases.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. 2,3,5

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.4

Early symptoms of meningococcal disease, such as high fever and lethargy, may be difficult to recognise and can easily be mistaken for a common cold. Other symptoms of meningococcal disease amongst babies, young children and adolescents may include vomiting, pale blotchy skin, cold hands and feet, and sensitivity to light. Babies may also have a high-pitched moaning cry and/or a bulging fontanelle. The distinctive purple meningococcal rash is an advanced symptoms of blood infection, which may or may not occur.7

About GSK

GSK is a science-led global healthcare company. For further information please visit www.gsk.com/about-us.

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References

  1. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) data reports. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/nndss-fortnightly-reports#2021 Accessed October 2022
  2. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Meningococcal Infection, May 2018. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Meningococcal_infection/, Accessed October 2022.
  3. World Health Organization. Meningococcal meningitis key facts; 28 September 2021. http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/meningococcal-meningitis (accessed August 2022).
  4. National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Meningococcal Vaccines for Australians, Fact Sheet, 1 July 2020. https://ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs/meningococcal-vaccines-australians Accessed October 2022
  5. Van Deuren M, et al. Clin Microbiol Rev 2000: 13:144–166
  6. Lahra M;Communicable Diseases Intelligence;2022;46;1-16
  7. NSW Health, Meningococcal disease fact sheet, 8 August 2022. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/meningococcal_disease.aspx, Accessed October 2022.


The Know Meningococcal campaign is sponsored by GSK Australia.

GSK, Melbourne, VIC NP-AU-MNX-PRSR-220001 Date of GSK Approval: October 2022