South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) is urging parents and young people to know the symptoms of meningococcal disease and act quickly to help prevent death or life-long disability.
Children aged under five, and teens and young adults aged 15 to 24 are most at risk of contracting the disease, which is fatal in up to one in 10 cases.
And with late winter and early spring the peak time for infection, SESLHD wants residents to be on the lookout for all symptoms - and not just the telltale rash that can sometimes appear too late to aid recovery.
Of the 59 meningococcal cases in NSW last year, four were in SESLHD and one of those was in Sutherland Shire.
While relatively rare, the disease can strike quickly and cause death or a lifetime of complications.
SESLHD Public Health Unit director Professor Mark Ferson said symptoms usually start with a sudden fever, often with headache, nausea and drowsiness.
"Neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and a rash of reddish-purple spots or bruises may also develop quickly," he said.
"Babies with the infection may be irritable, not feed properly or have an abnormal cry.
"If meningococcal disease is suspected, don't wait for the rash but see a doctor urgently.
"While a rash is a well-known symptom of meningococcal disease, it does not always occur or may present late in the illness.
"Seeking medical help urgently can be lifesaving because meningococcal disease can be fatal in up to one in 10 cases.
"One in five infections result in permanent disabilities, including learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs, or scarring caused by skin grafts."
Vaccination is strongly encouraged as a key prevention measure.
Under the National Immunisation Program, meningococcal ACWY (Men ACWY) vaccine is provided free for babies at 12 months, adolescents, and people of all ages with certain medical conditions.
In NSW, the adolescent dose is delivered through the school vaccination program in year 10.
As of July 1 this year, Aboriginal children up to the age of two and people with certain medical conditions can also access the free meningococcal B (Men B) vaccine.
NSW Health is investing about $140 million in its vaccination program this financial year.
SOURCE: St George and Sutherland Shire Leader