Meningococcal claims first NE victim this year

A WOMAN has died in a New England hospital from meningococcal disease. 

Dangerous sign: The purple rash often seen with meningococcal disease.

Dangerous sign: The purple rash often seen with meningococcal disease.

It is the first fatal case of the infection in the New England this year and the sixth confirmed case across the wider Hunter New England Health district. 

The tragedy comes as a suspected case of meningococcal claimed a patient in Warwick Hospital at the weekend, and a two-year-old died in a Newcastle hospital in June this year from the disease. 

Early detection and swift medical treatment are vital, Hunter New England and Population Health public health physician Dr Tony Merritt said. 

“It is a rare disease – we have about a dozen cases across the Hunter New England Health region each year – but it has the potential to be a very serious infection.”

He said the disease was not easily spread and those close to the deceased woman had been issued with clearance antibiotics. 

He urged locals who suspected they had been infected with meningococcal to seek immediate medical attention. 

Up to 10 per cent of people infected with the disease die as a result, and 20 per cent are left with permanent disabilities. 

Director of Meningococcal Australia Kirsten Baker, who is a survivor of the disease, said the infection could strike suddenly and cause death in less than 24 hours.

“The rapid progression and generalised early signs can mean it is easily misdiagnosed in its early stages,” Ms Baker said. 

Ms Baker urged the community to be alert to meningococcal symptoms, which include abnormal skin colour, pain in the legs and cold hands and feet, and babies with the infection may be irritable, have a shrill cry and may not feed properly.

Later symptoms of the disease may include a rash of reddish-purple spots, bruises, a dislike of bright lights, high fever, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting.

“Many are aware of the tell-tale purple rash, however as this usually appears in the later stages, people shouldn’t wait for the rash before seeking medical advice,” Ms Baker said. 

Dr Merritt said it was not unusual for an adult to be infected and die of the disease – although toddlers and people under the age of 25 are most at risk, any age group can be infected. He said an “excellent vaccine” for the C strain of meningococcal was freely available for people under the age of 25 and is recommended for babies at 12 months.

Of the approximate 250 meningococcal cases each year in Australia, the B strain of the disease accounts for more than 80 per cent, Ms Baker said. 

She said the vaccine for the B strain had only been available since March this year and was under review to be included in the National Immunisation Program. 

In the Hunter New England Health district, there were 11 confirmed cases of meningococcal disease in 2013, nine in 2012, 15 in 2011 and 13 in 2010.

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