Splendor in the Grass visitors are urged to be alert for meningococci. These are the symptoms to watch out for:

NSW Health has issued a public health warning after meningococcal disease was diagnosed in two people attending the Splendor in the Grass music festival two weeks ago.

One of those cases, a man in his forties, died of the disease.

NSW Health says the illness is uncommon, but it is urging people who have gone to Splendor in the Grass in the North Byron Parklands to watch for symptoms and act immediately if they appear.

What are the symptoms of meningococcus?

Perhaps one of the best-known symptoms is: rash with dark red and purple spots, but the Department of Health says this comes in the later stages of infection.

The meningococcal rash doesn’t go away with gentle pressure on the skin like other rashes, says NSW Health.

Not everyone with meningococcal disease gets a rash.

NSW Health says meningococcal symptoms are nonspecific 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 typical symptoms, including:

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

Symptoms for young children may be less specific.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • irritability
  • difficulty waking up
  • high-pitched cry
  • refusal to eat
A crooked SITG logo in the mud at Splendor In The Grass.
Splendor in the Grass was held two weeks ago in the North Byron Parklands. (Russell Privett/triple j )

What is meningococcus?

It is a serious bacterial infection that can be fatal.

People with the disease can become seriously unwell quite quickly, and the Department of Health is urging people with a suspected infection to see a doctor immediately.

“It can be fatal within hours, so early diagnosis and treatment is vital,” says the Department of Health’s website.

“Don’t wait for the purple rash to appear, because that’s a late stage of the disease.”

Meningococci usually cause blood poisoning and/or meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

It can also lead to severe scarring, loss of limbs, and brain damage.

What is the Meningococcal Death Rate?

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

How does meningococcus spread?

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

Usually it takes close and prolonged contact to be transferred from one person to another.

Meningococcal bacteria don’t survive well outside the human body, with NSW Health saying the disease isn’t easily spread by eating, drinking or sharing 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, small children, adolescents and young adults
  • people who smoke or are exposed to tobacco smoke
  • people who kiss intimately (deep mouth), especially with more than one partner
  • people who have recently had a viral upper respiratory illness
  • travelers to countries with high levels 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 have been vaccinated against meningococci.(AFP: Scientific Photo Library)

The Department of Health says meningococcal vaccines are recommended for:

  • infants, children, adolescents and young adults
  • special risk groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, individuals with certain medical conditions, lab workers who frequently deal with Neisseria meningitidis, travelers, and young adults who live in the area or who currently smoke

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

Adolescents are offered the injection through school vaccination programs.

You can verify that you have been vaccinated by reviewing your immunization history statement through Medicare.

But NSW Health says routine childhood vaccines don’t protect against all strains of the disease, so even vaccinated people should still be on the lookout for symptoms.

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