Meningococcal danger for schoolies teens

Emma-Kate McGrath

Emma-Kate McGrath

Teenagers flocking to Schoolies Week celebrations are being urged to be on the lookout for symptoms of meningococcal disease among their mates.

Meningococcal disease can spread in crowded situations and through close and prolonged contact – activities like deep kissing, coughing and cuddling – which are common among schoolies sharing accommodation, drinks and close quarters.

Teens are being urged to be vaccinated against the disease before they leave for their end of year celebrations, but the vaccine takes 10 to 14 days to fully protect meaning teens will still be at risk.

“The risk of contracting meningococcal can increase when older teenagers are in close proximity for a lengthy time, particularly in environments like schoolies,” said Meningococcal Australia founding member and medical adviser Professor Robert Booy.

The Gold Coast is Australia’s largest schoolies destination, with tens of thousands of students flocking north from next week. 

Professor Booy urged revellers to look after each other.

“Be aware of the symptoms to look out for, and don’t just assume you or your mate have got a hangover,” he said.

“Check for a temperature and look for a rash, and if they’ve got meningitis there can be a painful neck, headache, vomiting, their hands and feet can be cold, or have bottled skin with fine pin-prick rash which is bleeding in to the skin.”

If in doubt, the safest course of action is to seek urgent medical advice.

Loreto College student Emma-Kate McGrath died from meningococcal disease earlier this year and through the 4EK Foundation, set up in her name, her family and friends are raising awareness of the symptoms.

“Emma had gastro-like symptoms with stomach pain, vomiting and lethargy. If someone seems sicker than they normally would be with a hangover, cold or illness then it’s much better to get straight to hospital,” said family friend Lucy Loader.

“She was worse than she normally would be with a gastro bug but still didn’t present with any classic symptoms until the last couple of hours before she passed away when the rash came out.”

​Prof Booy said even if school leavers received the vaccination before leaving for schoolies and were not fully protected during their end-of-school party, the immunisation would protect over the coming years as they went to university, in to the workforce, and to other crowded areas like bars, parties and music festivals.