Australian Woman Contracts Rare, Life-Threatening Bacteria After Dream Vacation

Ms Gill’s initial symptom was a mild rash

18-year-old Claudia Gill’s dream vacation turned into a fight for survival. After returning home from Queensland, Claudia was struck by a brutal combination of fatigue, excruciating ear sensitivity, and a constant ringing in her ears. Soon, a stiff neck, vomiting, and fainting sent her rushing to the hospital. There, doctors delivered a chilling diagnosis – meningococcus B, a potentially fatal bacterial infection. 

A close call with death left Ms Gill hospitalized for five nights, followed by weeks of recovery and a gradual return to studies. Even two years later, she battles more frequent and severe headaches. Ms Gill’s brush with mortality has fueled her desire to raise awareness about meningococcal symptoms, hoping to prevent others from facing the same terrifying ordeal.

Ms Gill connected with community and advocacy groups and realised she would be a good test case for education about the disease.

“It happened so quickly, it was pretty scary,” Ms Gill told the New York Post. She wants to make people aware of the symptoms so they can act quickly if they suspect an infection.

Ms Gill’s initial symptom was a mild rash, which can sometimes appear later in the course of meningococcal meningitis. This was followed by a worsening of symptoms, including growing sensitivity to light and sound, a stiff neck, nausea, a stiff back, vomiting, and finally complete body stiffness and a headache.

“If I had had the rash earlier, we would have acted sooner. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to know all the symptoms,” she said.

Meningococcus bacteria come in different strains, some of which can invade the bloodstream and cause sepsis (blood poisoning). Fortunately, vaccines exist to protect against four common variants: A, C, W, and Y. In Australia, these vaccinations are free for newborns, individuals with certain immune conditions (asplenia, polysplenia, complement deficiency, eculizumab treatment), and for a specific population – newborns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who are also offered a free vaccine against the less common meningococcal B strain. Unfortunately, Ms Gill’s case involved meningococcal B.

Ms Gill is a student in Newcastle but is originally from Wollongong.