Splendor in the Grass attendees are encouraged to be aware of meningococcus. Here are the symptoms to watch out for

Written by Javed Iqbal

NSW Health has issued a public health warning after meningococcal disease was identified in two people who attended the Splendor in the Grass music festival a fortnight ago.

One of these cases, a man in his 40s, has died of the disease.

NSW Health says the disease is uncommon but is urging people who went to Splendor in the Grass in North Byron Parklands to look out for symptoms and act immediately if they appear.

What are the symptoms of meningococcus?

Perhaps one of the most well-known symptoms is rash with dark red and purple spots, but the Ministry of Health says that it comes in the later stages of infection.

Meningococcal rash does not go away with gentle pressure on the skin like other rashes can, NSW Health says.

Not everyone with meningococcal disease gets a rash.

NSW Health says meningococcal symptoms are non-specific and may not all be present at once.

People with the disease may notice leg pain, cold hands and abnormal skin color before the onset of the typical symptoms, which may include:

  • sudden onset of fever
  • headache
  • neck stiffness
  • joint pain
  • rash of red-purple spots or bruises
  • aversion to bright light
  • nausea and vomiting

Symptoms for young children may be less specific.

Here’s what you need to be aware of:

  • irritability
  • difficulty waking up
  • loud cry
  • refuse to eat
A crooked SITG logo in the mud at Splendor In The Grass.
Splendor in the Grass was held at North Byron Parklands a fortnight ago. (Russell Privett/triple j )

What is meningococcus?

It is a serious bacterial infection that can be fatal.

People with the disease can become seriously ill quite quickly, with the Danish Health Authority urging people with a suspected infection to seek medical attention immediately.

“It can kill within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is essential,” says the Danish Health Authority’s website.

“Don’t wait for the purple rash to appear as it is a late stage of the disease.”

Usually meningococcal causes blood poisoning and/or meningitis – which is inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

It can also result in severe scarring, loss of limbs and brain damage.

What is the death rate for meningococcus?

Between five and 10 percent of patients with the disease die.

How is meningococcus spread?

Meningococcal bacteria are passed on through secretions from the back of the nose and throat.

Typically, it needs close and prolonged contact to be transmitted from one person to another.

Meningococcal bacteria do not survive well outside the human body and NSW Health says the disease is not easily spread by sharing food, drinks or cigarettes.

NSW Health says people in the following groups are at higher risk of contracting the disease:

  • household contacts of patients with meningococcal disease
  • infants, young children, adolescents and young adults
  • people who smoke or are exposed to tobacco smoke
  • people who practice intimate (deep mouth) kissing, especially with more than one partner
  • people who have recently had a viral illness in the upper respiratory tract
  • travelers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease
  • people without a working spleen or who have certain other rare medical conditions

Is there a meningococcal vaccine?


A vial of a meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine on a desk with a stethoscope and a pen.
NSW Health says people should watch for symptoms even if they are vaccinated against meningococcal.(AFP: Science Photo Library)

The Department of Health says meningococcal vaccines are recommended for:

  • infants, children, youth and young adults
  • special risk groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, individuals with certain medical conditions, laboratory workers who frequently handle Neisseria meningitidis, travelers and young adults who live in close proximity to each other or who are current smokers

But anyone who wants to protect themselves against meningococcal disease should talk to their doctor.

Young people are offered shots through school vaccination programs.

You can check if you are vaccinated by viewing your immunization history through Medicare.

But NSW Health says routine childhood vaccines do not protect against all strains of the disease, so even vaccinated people should still be aware of symptoms.

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Javed Iqbal

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