Local News

Elderly woman dies from meningococcal disease in Hunter New England Health District

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A woman is confirmed to have died from meningococcal disease in the Hunter New England Health District.

Hunter New England Health (HNEH) confirmed an elderly woman has died after contracting the disease.

It is the fifth case in the region this year of the rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause death within hours and is often hard to identify.

It comes not a week after a toddler died of the disease.

Public health physician, Dr Craig Dalton expressed the District’s condolences.

“This is a tragic event and our sympathies are with the woman’s family at this very difficult time,” said Dr Dalton.

NSW Health is urging people to be alert to lesser known signs of meningococcal disease with 22 cases already reported this year and the peak period for the disease still more than a month away.

Dr Dalton said cases normally start to increase towards the end of flu season when people’s immune systems are weaker from viruses.

“Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause death within hours and it’s hard to identify, so the more symptoms people know about, the better,” said Dr Dalton.

“Often it can mimic other common illnesses, so be aware nearer spring that nausea symptoms, vomiting, neck stiffness, joint pain, light sensitivity, or a sudden fever, could be something else."

“Most people normally associate meningococcal disease with a rash of red-purple spots or bruises but in some cases a rash doesn’t appear, or it could be the last symptom to take shape.”

Meningococcal infection does not spread easily. It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. Close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on.

“It more commonly occurs in people aged between 15-24 years as they tend to be involved in more intimate social activities such as kissing, and children aged under 5 years, but it can affect anyone,” said Dr Dalton.

Vaccination is the best means of protection against meningococcal disease. Vaccination for meningococcal disease types A, C, W and Y, is available on the National Immunisation Program for infants at 12 months of age and adolescents in Year 10.

Any adolescents aged 15 to 19 years who miss the vaccine in school are eligible for a free vaccine from their GP. However, as there are several strains of meningococcal disease, and vaccination does not cover all strains, even vaccinated people need to be on the lookout for symptoms.

Image credit: HNEH