Meningococcal case sparks warning

COFFS Coast families have been warned to look out for the symptoms of meningococcal disease after a child fell ill with the potentially deadly infection.

A child in the Grafton area has been diagnosed with the disease and is now receiving treatment in Brisbane.

Meningococcal disease symptoms include fever, refusal to feed, irritability and extreme tiredness.

Public Health director Paul Corben said close contacts of the child had received clearance antibiotics, and there were no links between this case and any previous cases.

He said the community needed to be on alert for symptoms of the disease, which can be spread by secretions from the nose and throat.

"If anyone suspects meningococcal disease, they should seek medical attention immediately as this may prevent the development of serious complications," he said.

"Meningococcal disease can be a life-threatening condition and up to 10 per cent of cases can be fatal. Other cases may result in severe complications that cause deafness and loss of limbs."

Mr Corben stressed that while meningococcal disease could be serious, in most cases, early detection and treatment resulted in a complete recovery.

The first symptoms of meningococcal disease may include pain in the legs, cold hands and feet and abnormal skin colour.

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

Babies with the infection can be irritable, not feed properly and have an abnormal cry. A rash does not always appear and not all of the symptoms of meningococcal disease may be present at once.

"Meningococcal infection does not spread easily," Mr Corben said.

"It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying it and close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on. It does not appear to be spread through saliva or by sharing drinks, food or cigarettes."

Most cases of meningococcal disease are seen in infants, young children, teenagers and young adults, although people of any age can be infected.

The two main strains of meningococcal disease in Australia are the B and C strains. The National Immunisation Program includes a vaccine for the meningococcal C strain but not for the B strain of the disease. This means that young people who have had the meningococcal C vaccine should still be on the lookout for symptoms.

"The number of cases of this rare disease has been falling over the past 10 years due in part to the success of the meningococcal C vaccination program," Mr Corben said.