A two-year-old has died of meningococcal disease in a Newcastle hospital as the peak season for the illness gets underway.
The Nelson Bay boy, known only as Ryder, appeared unwell on Tuesday evening, his mother told Nine News. He was airlifted to John Hunter hospital the following morning but died later that day.
Ryder had Down syndrome and a heart condition, a combination which meant "he barely stood a chance" against the disease, his mother said.
But she added that her young son had "put up one hell of a fight".
Public Health Physician Dr David Durrheim told the Newcastle Herald that parents need to be alert because meningococcal disease can be very severe: up to 10 per cent of patients with invasive meningococcal disease in Australia die as a result of the infection.
The first symptoms of meningococcal disease may include pain in the legs, cold hands and feet and abnormal skin colour.
Later symptoms may include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights, nausea and vomiting, a rash of reddish-purple spots or bruises and drowsiness.
In babies, additional symptoms may include refusing to feed, a shrill or moaning cry, a blank and staring expression, being floppy or lethargic, arching of the body or neck, and a tense or bulging fontanelle. (Learn more about the symptoms and treatment of meningococcal in our fact sheet.)
The peak season is in winter and spring.
"Meningococcal infection does not spread easily,” Dr Durrheim said.
“It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying it and close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on.
“It does not appear to be spread through saliva or by sharing drinks, food or cigarettes.”
Dr Durrheim stressed that while meningococcal disease could be serious, in most cases, early detection and treatment resulted in a complete recovery.
There have been four cases of meningococcal in the area this year, but there are no links between the child’s case and any previous cases.
Close contacts have been prescribed clearance antibiotics.
- Ashleigh Gleeson with staff writers