Invasive Meningococcal Disease cases are on the rise in Australia, with data showing the total number of cases to the end of September 2022 (86) already exceeds last year’s total (74).
IMD is a rare bacterial infection, which can progress rapidly. Most people survive IMD, however if it is not treated quickly, it may cause serious disability or loss of life within 24 hours.
Up to 1 in 10 people infected with IMD may die, and up to 1 in 5 survivors may develop serious long-term complications, including brain damage, deafness or loss of limbs.
Babies (less than 2 years of age), and adolescents (15–19 years of age) are most vulnerable to the disease. Early signs and symptoms may be difficult to diagnose as they can easily be mistaken for a common cold, for example high fever or lethargy.
Now medical experts, patient advocacy groups and high-profile Australians are partnering with GSK Australia to help raise community awareness about invasive meningococcal disease. You can find a link to the online campaign here.
The joint educational initiative is focused on the signs, symptoms and risk factors of this rare, but potentially devastating disease. People are encouraging to speak to their healthcare professional for more information about IMD.
The prevalence of invasive meningococcal disease declined during 2020-2021, as lockdowns restricted movement and travel, but since Australians have started travelling again, and become more mobile, IMD circulation in the community is increasing. This poses a growing danger to children and adolescents, who are most at risk of the disease.
Infectious diseases paediatrician, Professor Robert Booy, says it’s critical for families to know the signs and symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease. He says the new awareness campaign is being rolled out at the perfect time.
‘Given we are experiencing an increased level of population movements, I encourage everyone, especially parents of young children, to be talking to their doctor about invasive meningococcal disease. It can strike anyone, and we already see an increase in meningococcal disease cases locally and in other countries, like UK, where the number of cases are nearing pre-pandemic levels,’ said Professor Booy.
‘Time is of the essence when it comes to minimising the potentially lethal consequences of IMD. We can reduce its impact by educating people about the signs and symptoms to look out for,’ he said. ‘Confusing the symptoms with a common cold for example, can put the life of loved ones at risk.’
Keeping IMD front of mind
Meningococcal disease can occur at any age, however, babies (under 2 year of age) and adolescents (15-19 years of age) are most vulnerable to the disease, which is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. This generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria.
IMD campaign ambassador Felicity Harley, who is an author, host of Body + Soul’s ‘Healthy-ish’ podcasts and wife of AFL legend Tom Harley, has her own family experience of IMD, as her son Hugo contracted the disease at the age of five weeks.
‘I still vividly remember driving my listless and incredibly ill baby to the hospital and not knowing if he would live.
‘Acting quickly on the first symptoms may have saved his life,’ said Ms Harley.
‘I cannot imagine where Hugo and our whole family would be now if those signs were missed. I urge all parents to keep meningococcal disease signs and symptoms front of mind.’
Community education vital
Karen Quick, CEO of Meningitis Centre Australia, says she’s pleased to see increasing attention to community education around IMD.
‘For over 30 years Meningitis Centre Australia has been working hard to make information about IMD easily available to help parents understand the risk their children may face,’ said Ms Quick.
‘Now more than ever with the increase in IMD cases, parents need to know the signs and symptoms of this disease, so they can act immediately, save lives and avoid potential long-term disability. This information is easily accessible on our website,’ she said.
‘Meningococcal is a devastating disease for Australians and their families. If contracted, it can cause significant impact on the whole community. It is wonderful to see so many people joining forces to raise awareness, educate the community and encourage people to talk to their healthcare professional.’
For more information about meningococcal, speak to your healthcare professional and visit https://knowmeningococcal.com.au/.