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Meningococcal disease- what you need to know and look out for

Meningococcal disease blog

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised and treated in time.

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that usually causes meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and/or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Rare forms of the disease include septic arthritis (joint infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and conjunctivitis (infection of the outer lining of the eye and eyelid).

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. Five to ten per cent of patients with meningococcal disease die, even despite rapid treatment.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital. Do not wait for the purple rash to appear as that is a critical stage of the disease.

Signs and symptoms

The distinctive dreaded rash

The distinctive meningococcal rash (indicating bleeding into the skin) can be a critical symptom

of deadly septicaemia, along with a high fever. The rash may start with a simple spot or blister anywhere on the body, then may progress quickly to red pinpricks like small mosquito bites, and/or spread quickly into purple bruise like blotches. It’s important not to wait until a rash appears before seeking treatment, as the meningococcal rash signifies a critical stage of the disease.

Symptoms in babies

  • fever, hands and feet may also feel cold

  • refusing feeds or vomiting

  • high pitched moaning cry or whimpering

  • dislike of being handled, fretful

  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises that do not fade under pressure

  • blank and staring expression

  • bulging fontanelle

  • difficult to wake, lethargic

  • pale blotchy complexion

Symptoms in older children and adults

  • vomiting

  • fever

  • headache

  • stiff neck

  • dislike of bright lights

  • drowsiness

  • joint pain

  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises that do not fade under pressure

If anyone has any of these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention.

Early treatment can sometimes prevent serious complications.

Click here for more information on signs and symptoms of Meningococcal disease

Download fact sheet from Meningococcal Australia


Seek urgent medical advice from your doctor or hospital if you are in any way concerned that you or someone you know is presenting symptoms consistent with meningococcal disease.

Patients with meningococcal disease need urgent treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

If the rash appears, in conjunction with other symptoms such as a high fever, call an ambulance for urgent treatment.

In cases where meningococcal disease is suspected, it is recommended that antibiotic treatment be started before the diagnosis is confirmed by tests.


Get vaccinated!

While it’s advisable to practice good hygiene to minimise the spread of bacteria causing disease, and to avoid sharing drink bottles, food, toothbrushes, mouthguards and lip gloss, the only truly effective way to prevent meningococcal disease is vaccination.

In Australia, there are now vaccines available for each of the 5 main strains of the disease:

Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine protects against meningococcal group C disease. It is recommended for all children at the age of 12 months (as part of the free National Immunisation Program). It is also suitable for teenagers and adults.

Please visit your GP and they can discuss options and ensure that you are your family is up to date with vaccinations. Don’t delay, contact Mariners Medical today.


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