NSW Health has issued a public health alert for meningococcal disease after two cases were reported in people who attended this year’s Splendor in the Grass music festival in northern New South Wales.
Meningococcal disease is a contagious infection classified by health authorities as a medical emergency because it can be fatal within hours. The infection occurs when the meningococcal germ, which is dormant in many people, enters the throat and enters the bloodstream, causing poisoning.
A man in his 40s died after contracting the disease at a festival in North Byron Parklands July 21-24. Another case has been identified by NSW Health, but details are unknown.
NCA NewsWire spoke to infectious disease specialist Dr. Robert Bui will answer your questions about fast acting disease.
Could I have contracted this disease in Splendour?
The proximity of festival-goers means an increased likelihood of infection spreading, Dr. Bui said.
“There are a number of examples where people were either at a festival or a football stadium and we had two, three, up to four cases,” he said.
“It’s not common, but it’s well known, and it’s associated with close contact, crowding, and people standing next to each other (during) singing, dancing, and shouting.”
A professor at the University of Sydney noted that singing and shouting (a necessary activity at the festival) releases a lot of particles into the air, which people nearby will breathe.
If someone is a carrier of dormant meningococcus and releases it while singing, it can easily be passed on to nearby revelers.
Dr. Boy also warned that kissing is a sure way to transmit infection.
How do I know if I have a meningococcal infection?
NSW Health warns that symptoms can come on suddenly and become very severe quickly.
Dr Bui said people should be extremely vigilant if they think they have been exposed to the disease and urged festivalgoers to keep a close eye on symptoms.
“People should look for three or four classic symptoms: headache, fever, rash, and rashes are little spots that don’t go out of color when you press them,” he said.
“If they are not feeling well, they may notice that their hands and feet are very cold.”
The NSW health advisory lists other symptoms, including severe pain in the limbs, lethargy, sensitivity to bright light and stiff neck.
Dr Bui said people have a “golden hour” window of 12 to 36 hours to identify symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek immediate treatment.
“Golden hours are the time when your condition gets worse, your blood pressure drops and you go into shock,” said the former head of clinical research at the National Immunization Research and Surveillance Center at Westmead Children’s Hospital.
“During that time, if you’re treated with fluids and antibiotics, you could save a life.”
He urged anyone who feels unwell to see a doctor or go to the hospital if they feel very unwell.
What should I do if I think I have been exposed?
Dr. Boy said the best thing to do is keep an eye on your companions and other visitors and watch for symptoms.
“If you’ve been to Splendor in the Grass, you need to keep an eye on your friend and partner,” he said.
“Make sure sleepiness isn’t just a headache, sleepiness isn’t just a hangover, it could be an infection.”
I will die?
In Australia, one in ten cases of meningococcal disease results in death, according to an infectious disease expert.
“Most cases survive with a disability,” Dr. Bui said.
NSW Health reports that 40 percent of meningococcal cases result in permanent disability, which can range from loss of limbs to learning difficulties.
How can I protect myself from meningococcus?
As we have heard repeatedly over the past two years, the key to prevention is vaccination.
Older readers will remember that there was an outbreak of meningococcal disease in Australia in the early 1990s before vaccination was introduced for all children in 2003.
The National Immunization Program currently provides free meningococcal vaccines to infants as young as 12 months, adolescents as young as 10, and people with certain medical conditions.
NSW Health reports that this year, after a two-year delay due to closed international borders, there has been a 15-person spike in meningococcal infections in the state.
Dr Bui said the number of cases of meningococcal disease is lower than before the pandemic.