Meningococcal disease claims life of New England baby

CONFIRMED: Authorities wouldn't release any details about the baby's identity or location. Photo: file
CONFIRMED: Authorities wouldn't release any details about the baby's identity or location. Photo: file

A BABY from the New England has died after contracting meningococcal disease, the local health district has confirmed.

Hunter New England Health won't confirm any details on the baby's gender, age or when and where the toddler was hospitalised.

Public health physician David Durrheim said it was a tragic event and shared condolences with the toddler's family.

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This is the fourth case of meningococcal disease in the Hunter New England region this year.

"Clearance antibiotics have been prescribed to close contacts of the child to eradicate any meningococcal bacteria they may be carrying and prevent further transmission," Dr Durrheim said.

"Meningococcal disease can occur at any time of year, but we do typically see a peak in cases in spring following the winter flu season.

"Most cases occur in infants, young children, teenagers and young adults, although people of any age can be affected."

Meningococcal infection does not spread easily.

It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria and close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on.

What are the symptoms?

Meningococcal disease usually begins with the sudden onset of fever, often with headache, nausea and drowsiness.

Neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and a rash of reddish-purple spots or bruises may develop rapidly. Babies with the infection may be irritable, not feed properly and have an abnormal cry.

What protection is available?

Since July last year, the Australian government has expanded the protection offered to infants under the national immunisation program to include meningococcal A, W and Y disease, in addition to the meningococcal C protection that has been offered since 2003.

In addition, the NSW government has funded meningococcal ACWY vaccine for older adolescents in schools since 2017 in response to an increase in cases of meningococcal W in recent years.

A single free meningococcal ACWY vaccine was offered to high school students in Years 11 and 12 in 2017 and Years 10 and 11 in 2018.

The federal government has announced funding to continue this program.

People aged 15-19 years who have not received the ACWY vaccine via the school program can visit their general practitioner to receive a free vaccine.

The NSW government invested $17 million in the Meningococcal W response program and over 200,000 teenagers were vaccinated with the ACWY vaccine in the first two years of the program.