Meningococcal Australia is urging parents to know the signs and symptoms, check their child’s vaccinations are up to date and to act quickly if they suspect someone they know or care for may have meningococcal disease.

Meningococcal disease, while rare, is a sudden and severe disease that can lead to death in less than 24 hours.

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service have reported a case of meningococcal disease in the Sunshine Coast region and Meningococcal Australia are now urging Queenslanders to know the signs and symptoms, check vaccinations are up to date and importantly act quickly if they suspect meningococcal disease.

This warning follows the tragic death of Julianne Dunkinson, a Sunshine Coast woman in her late 30s, who has sadly passed away from meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can lead to death in less than 24 hours.

Queensland Health said it was the sixth meningococcal case in the state so far this year.

The rapid progression and generalised early signs can mean it is easily misdiagnosed in its early stages, even by experienced healthcare professionals, so any preventative measures that can be taken are extremely important.

The disease is spread by prolonged close contact such as coughing, sneezing and kissing. Simple steps such as washing hands regularly and covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing can all help stop the spread of the disease, however vaccination provides the best protection against the major strains.

There are now vaccines available in Australia to protect against all major strains of meningococcal disease, and these are recommended by the Department of Health. However, not all vaccines are given as part of the National Immunisation Program, so Meningococcal Australia strongly recommends that parents talk with their doctor to understand how to best protect against meningococcal disease.

Dr Andrew Langley, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, Public Health Physician said the messgae to the public is very clear.

“This is the first case of meningococcal this year on the Sunshine Coast and in Queensland there have been five cases so far,” he said. “Our message that we are trying to get across is to vaccinate.

“You can get meningococcal at any time in your life, but the highest rate of infection is for young children.”

Symptoms can vary considerably and may include headache, fever, fatigue or drowsiness, a stiff or painful neck, sensitivity to light and vomiting or shivering, cold hands and feet, muscle or joint pain, or a change in skin colour.

The late-stage rash may also develop which can start off as a spot, blister or pinpricks and later turn into purple bruise-like blotches.

In Australia, the five major strains of meningococcal disease (A, B, C, W and Y) cause between 200-250 cases every year with the B group accounting for around 85 per cent of these cases. Meningococcal disease can present as meningitis (an infection of the membrane around the brain and spine), septicaemia (blood poisoning), or a combination of both.

Around 5-10 per cent of those who contract meningococcal disease will not survive and 20 per cent of survivors are left with permanent disabilities that range from learning difficulties, sight / hearing problems, loss of fingers, toes and limbs, and scarring from skin grafts.

Anyone who suspects they or someone they care for may have meningococcal disease should seek medical attention immediately. Parents wanting more information about the disease, signs and symptoms should talk with their doctor and visit www.meningococcal.org.au