As if being a mother to a newborn and a toddler wasn't challenging enough, with the sleep deprivation and surging hormones, imagine the extra stress if you felt something wasn't quite right with your brand new baby. And even though you express concern to hospital staff – and are reassured that all is well – your intuition tells you otherwise.
That was exactly what led Port Macquarie mum Naomi to rush her one-week-old daughter Caprice to the emergency department days after being discharged from hospital, and was the catalyst for Caprice's diagnosis of meningitis - an early detection that saved her life.
Lisa D'Cruz, Project Officer for The Meningitis Centre Australia, explains that isn’t an isolated case, as the deadly disease is often overlooked. The disease, of which there are three types - viral, bacterial and fungal – can seem innocent at first; as with Caprice’s case, it can often originally be ignored because its main symptoms look very similar to the flu.
"Common symptoms include fever, tiredness, irritability, headache, loss of appetite. But what most people are unaware of is the symptoms that progressively worsen in a 24 hour period, which may include a pink/purple rash and septicaemia," D'Cruz says.
Left untreated, the disease can soon turn deadly. "Meningitis is the inflammation or swelling of the meninges, the membranes which cover the brain and spinal cord," she says. "The meninges are very important as they contain blood vessels which supply lots of nutrients for the central nervous system."
While the disease is on the decline in Australia, thanks largely to the National Immuninsation Plan, strains such as meningoccocal B are still giving cause for concern because of the hefty vaccination fee.
But D’Cruz and her colleagues at The Meningitis Centre Australia want people to ask, "Could it be meningitis?"
"This could be the question that could save your loved one’s life," D'Cruz says.
Dangerously, for Caprice, none of the health professionals asked this question, even when she displayed many of the warning signs.
"She had a little bit of a rash in hospital which I showed two nurses on day two, and I told the doctor about it when he did his check-up. They said all newborns get lots of rashes," says Naomi.
"I also noticed she would moan in her sleep, but they said that's just normal as well."
Other cries were interpreted by a midwife as wind, and even though Naomi says her baby girl - a little sister to Lola, then 18 months - was relatively happy and sleeping okay, she felt that her daughter was in pain each time she picked her up.
It wasn't until she presented at her local emergency department and detailed her daughter's symptoms that the question was finally asked.
"I told them I sensed I was hurting her, particularly around her head and neck," Naomi says. "They took her straight in and they talked about having to give her a lumbar puncture."
It was then she was told her one-week-old was being tested for meningitis.
"Going up there I was thinking she had wind or reflux and then they're doing lumbar punctures," Naomi says, her voice still laced with shock. "You think the worst: is she going to die?"
After three failed attempts at getting fluid from baby Caprice's spine, the family had to wait for another three days until tests could be sent away to confirm the initial diagnosis. Antibiotics were commenced immediately, in case it was the bacterial strain, and a week later it was verified: Caprice had contracted viral meningitis.
It still remains a mystery how the tiny baby caught meningitis in the first place.
Now, Naomi says she hopes hospital staff re-think what they teach in antenatal classes to help increase parental vigilance.
"We need to concentrate more on symptoms of illnesses and what to look out for, and maybe trying to keep baby at home [when they’re so young]," she says. "For us it could be nothing, but for them when they are so little it can turn into meningitis."
The good news for Naomi and Caprice is that not only did the early detection save her life, but also ensured she won't face future complications as a result. Caprice is now a happy and healthy six-month-old.
Naomi hopes others who face the same battle against meningitis will be as lucky, which is why she wants to share her story to help raise awareness and teach others to trust their instincts.
"Sometimes with a second child you can be a bit blasé, but if something's not feeling right you've got to go with it," she says. And just as The Meningitis Centre Australia advocates, she encourages parents to ask: "could it be meningitis?" You might just save a life.
For more information on meningitis, or for those requiring support while recovering from this disease, call 1800 250 223 or visit meningitis.com.au.