NSW Health has issued a public health alert for meningococcal disease after two cases were reported in people attending this year’s Splendor in the Grass music festival in north NSW.
Meningococcal is a contagious infection that health authorities classify as a medical emergency because it can be fatal within hours. The infection occurs when the meningococcal germ, which many people dormant, enters the throat and travels into the bloodstream to cause poisoning.
A man in his 40s died after contracting the disease at the festival in the North Byron Parklands from July 21-24. Another case has been identified by NSW Health, but no further details are known.
NCA NewsWire spoke to infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Booy to answer your questions about the fast-acting disease.
Could I have contracted the disease from Splendor?
according to dr Booy, the proximity of festival-goers increases the likelihood of the infection spreading.
“There are a number of examples where people have been either at a festival or in a football stadium and we’ve had two, three, up to four cases,” he said.
“It’s not common, but it’s easily recognizable and it’s due to close contact, crowding and people singing, dancing and shouting (while) they are.”
The University of Sydney professor found that singing and shouting (required activities at a festival) releases many particles into the air for those nearby to inhale.
If someone carries the dormant meningococcal germ and releases it while singing, it can easily be transmitted to nearby revelers.
dr Booy also warned that kissing is a sure way of transmitting the infection.
How do I know if I have meningococci?
NSW Health warns that symptoms can come on suddenly and quickly become very serious.
dr Booy said people should be extremely vigilant if they think they’ve been exposed to the disease and urged festival-goers to watch closely for symptoms.
“People should look out for the three or four classic symptoms: headache, fever, rash, and the rash is small patches that don’t lose color when you press on them,” he said.
“If they are unwell, they may notice that their hands and feet feel very cold.”
NSW Health Advice lists other symptoms including severe body aches, lethargy, sensitivity to bright lights and a stiff neck.
dr Booy said people have a “golden hour window” of 12 to 36 hours to spot meningococcal symptoms and seek immediate treatment.
“In the golden hours your condition worsens, your blood pressure drops and you go into shock,” said the former clinical research director at the National Center for Immunization Research and Surveillance at Westmead Children’s Hospital.
“If you’re treated with fluids and antibiotics during this time, you can save a life.”
He urged anyone who is unwell to see their doctor or go to the hospital if they are very unwell.
What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed?
dr Booy said the best thing you can do is keep an eye on your friends and fellow visitors and watch for symptoms.
“If you’ve been to Splendor in the Grass, you have to take care of your friend and your partner,” he said.
“Check that drowsiness isn’t just a headache, drowsiness isn’t just a hangover, it could actually be an infection.”
will i die
Up to one in ten cases of meningococcal disease in Australia results in death, according to the infectious disease expert.
“Most cases survive with disability,” said Dr. boo.
NSW Health reports that 40 percent of meningococcal cases result in permanent disability, which can range from the loss of a limb to learning disabilities.
How can I protect myself from meningococci?
As we’ve heard over and over again for the last two years, vaccination is the key to prevention.
Older readers will recall that meningococcal outbreaks broke out in Australia in the early 1990s before vaccination was introduced for all children in 2003.
The National Immunization Program is now offering free meningococcal vaccines to babies as young as 12 months, teens as young as 10 years old and people with certain medical conditions.
NSW Health reports that there has been a surge of 15 meningococcal cases in the state this year after two years of delay due to closed international borders.
dr Booy said the number of meningococcal cases is lower than before the pandemic.
Originally published as What you need to know about the meningococcal cases at Splendor in the Grass