Jenny Hill - College Nurse

INFORMATION ON MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE (reference: Amanda Young Foundation)

Meningococcal disease is caused by bacteria (not by a virus), and transmitted via saliva. Meningococcal bacteria can live harmlessly in our throat and nose. Around 20% of people will be carrying these bacteria at any one time without ever becoming ill ('healthy carriers"). In fact, all of us will carry them at some stage in our lives. There are many different strains of meningococcus - the most common in Australia are B and C. The bacteria only live for a short time outside the body - and even if you pick them up, it doesn't mean you'll become ill. The danger only occurs if you pick up a strain you're not immunised against, or don't have any natural immunity to - or if your immune system has for some reason become weakened and cannot cope.

Who is at risk:
Meningococcal disease can strike both children and adults - anywhere, at any time. But those most at risk are:

  • Babies and children up to the age of 5 years
  • Teenagers and young adults from 15 to 25 years
  • Smoking and passive smoking can increase the risk of infection

Meningococcal prevention
There are vaccines available, but they don't protect against all strains of meningococcus.
In Australia, the majority of cases are caused by Group B - for which there is no vaccine yet available. However there is a vaccine for C strain.
As meningococcal bacteria are passed on via saliva, it's important to warn children against certain practices.

Precautions to take:
Don't share:

  • Food, dips, ice creams
  • Drinks, bottles, straws
  • Lipstick or lip gloss
  • Toothbrushes
  • Cigarettes
  • Mouth guards
  • Musical instruments with mouth pieces


  • Don't suck the end of a shared pen or pencil
  • Don't suck baby's dummy before putting it in baby's mouth
  • Watch out for toddlers sucking and sharing toys

Meningococcal symptoms
Because of the wide range of possible symptoms, the infection is often hard to identify at first, and you may not realise how sick you really are. To add to the difficulty, not everyone gets the same set of symptoms, and they don't come in any particular order. In fact, some of the much talked about symptoms, such as stiff neck or purple rash, many not appear at all. This is why it's critically important to be aware of all the possible symptoms, to be painstakingly watchful, and to use your gut feelings to decide whether the illness seems in any way strange, different or more rapidly progressive and severe, than you'd normally expect. See a doctor if several or more of these symptoms occur and the patient is looking or feeling very unwell and deteriorates rapidly.

Symptoms in children and adults:

  • Fever (which many not respond to paracetamol)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Tiredness or drowsiness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability or agitation
  • A sore throat
  • Severe headache
  • Backache
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Twitching or convulsions
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Cold shivers
  • Pain in chest or abdomen
  • Pale, grey or blotchy skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhoea
  • A rash, which may start off as a spot, scratch mark or blister, as a faint pink rash or as red or purple pinpricks on the skin, then develop into the distinctive purple bruising.

Symptoms in babies:
Fever, fever with cold hand and feet, vomiting, diarrhoea, pale or blotchy skin, poor feeding, moaning/high pitched cry, blank, staring expression, dislike of being handled, fretful, floppy or lethargic, difficult to wake, arching of bod/neck, bulging fontanelle, pink, red or purple rash.