$113,000 Meningococcal nightmare

Customer case study - Liliana Sheridan

On her first big family holiday to Thailand, little Lilliana was a happy and healthy baby. Halfway into the month-long trip, she came down with a fever, which turned out to be meningococcal disease.

Zoom and Meningococcal Australia are working with Mum Elisha to urge other parents to make sure they have the right travel cover for their little ones, and be aware of the signs and symptoms of the terrible disease which almost killed her daughter.

“Lilli was well and happy in the morning, and dying by lunchtime. To parents who think about travelling uninsured – don’t. It could mean the difference between life and death.”



On her first big family holiday, little Lilliana was a happy and healthy baby. Halfway into the month-long trip, she came down with a fever, but was quickly discharged from a local clinic with paracetamol. Hours later, her temperature had skyrocketed, and Lilliana lost consciousness and turned blue.

"I ran onto the street, screaming for help... My baby was dying."

Rushed to hospital, she was given oxygen and intravenous fluids as doctors ran test after test, before delivering a diagnosis of meningococcal sepsis –a sudden onset bacterial infection of the bloodstream and blood vessels.

With her own blood now poisonous, Lilliana was fighting for her life. The purple rash often associated with meningococcal entirely covered her legs and broke out into open wounds as her skin turned gangrenous.

“We watched her heart rate go up to 230 beats for three days and they told us to expect cardiac arrest.”

Once she was stable, Lilliana was airlifted from Phuket to Bangkok, where surgeons painstakingly removed the dead and dying tissue in her legs in the hope that it would save her from amputation. After two weeks in intensive care, Lilliana and her family were flown back home to the Gold Coast to begin the long road to recovery.


Elisha says that the support from her travel insurer, Zoom Travel Insurance, was a lifesaver. The company paid over $113,000AUD in claims for Lilliana and her family.

“Zoom Travel Insurance went above and beyond for us and played a major role in saving Lilli’s life. They supported not only Lilli, me and Jai but covered expenses of my parents, brother and sister-in-law too. We were in a foreign country and my baby was dying, and they made us feel less alone.”

Zoom provided around-the-clock support, getting progress reports from the Thai doctors and explaining them to Lilliana’s parents and grandmother, arranging an Australian critical care nurse to be on the ground, organising air ambulances and flight permits, and arranging flights to return home. They also flew an Australian critical care nurse to be with the family, to liaise with doctors and provide reassurance.

"If we didn’t have Zoom to advocate and help us navigate that whole hospital system, I just don’t think she would have received that level of care that she really needed."

Lilliana’s family had a comprehensive travel insurance policy, which not only covered her medical expenses, but also allowed us to support her parents and some extended family members with accommodation, transport and meals so they could be by her side in Thailand while she underwent treatment.

More basic or medical-only policies do not offer this same level of support, which is why it's so important to read the Product Disclosure Statement what your family will and won't be covered for in an emergency.


Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that causes blood poisoning or inflammation of the lining of the brain. Infection generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria, and is not easily spread by sharing drinks, food or cigarettes. There are 150-350 cases in Australia every year.
Director of Meningococcal Australia, Eliza Ault-Connell, is a Paralympic athlete and meningococcal survivor. She warns that the rapid progression can be a killer.

“The period between onset of first symptoms to being critically ill can be a matter of hours. You can seem healthy at breakfast and be dead by dinner.”

Eliza explains:

“The symptoms may include sudden onset of fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, a rash of red-purple spots or bruises, dislike of bright lights, nausea and vomiting. Not all symptoms may be present at once, and young children may have less specific symptoms, including irritability, high-pitched crying and refusal to eat.”
Meningococcal disease can affect anyone, however certain groups, including infants and small children, young adults, smokers, people who practice intimate kissing (especially with more than one partner) and travellers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease are particularly at risk. People who have meningococcal symptoms should see a doctor urgently. If you have already seen a doctor but symptoms continue to worsen, consult your doctor again or go to the Emergency Department.

There are vaccinations available for the 5 main strains of meningococcal disease, in two separate vaccinations. Protection from the A,C,W and Y strains can be given from two months of age, and is on the Australian National Immunisation Program for children 12 months and older. To immunise their babies earlier, parents must pay $60-$100 per dose. At seven months old, Baby Lilliana was old enough to receive the vaccine, but not old enough for the government-funded program.

The Meningococcal B vaccine can be given from 6 weeks of age. It is not on the National Immunisation Program but is funded in South Australia. Privately, it costs between $120-$150 a dose.

For more information, visit Meningococcal Australia.


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Understand how meningococcal can affect you and your family, and what to do in an emergency.

  • What is meningococcal disease?
  • Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by the the Neisseria Meningitidis bacteria. It may cause blood poisoning (sepsis) or inflammation of the lining of the brain (meningitis). There are 150-350 cases in Australia every year.  There are five main strains - A, B, C, W and Y.

  • How is it contracted?
  • The bacteria is passed between people from the secretions from the back of the nose and throat. Infection generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria, and is not easily spread by sharing drinks, food or cigarettes. Typically, this means living in the same household as an infected person, or intimate (deep) kissing. In some cases, like Lilliana's, the original cause of infection is simply never known. Infants, small children, adolescents, smokers, travellers to countries with high rates of meningococcal and people without working spleens are are higher risk, although it can affect anyone.

  • What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
  • Symptoms may include sudden onset of fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, a rash of red-purple spots or bruises, dislike of bright lights nausea and vomiting. Babies and young children may have less specific symptoms. These may include irritability, difficulty waking, high-pitched crying, and refusal to eat. The typical purple rash doesn't disappear with gentle pressure on the skin. Not everyone with meningococcal disease get a rash or if it does occur, it may do so at a very late stage.

  • What should I do if I suspect meningococcal disease?
  • If you or your child exhibits the symptoms of meningococcal disease, immediately seek medical attention from a doctor. If you do so and symptoms continue to worsen, go to your emergency department immediately.

  • How is meningococcal disease diagnosed?
  • Diagnosis can be very difficult in the early stages of the disease - it may present similar to a flu or other common illness. Confirmation of meningococcal typically involves significant testing, including blood, skin and cerebrospinal fluid samples.

  • How is it treated?
  • When caught very early, antibiotics are one of the first lines of treatment. In more advanced cases, treatment may also include plasma and blood transfusions, skin debridement and grafting.

  • Is there a vaccination?
  • Yes, across Australia, a vaccine for the A,C,W,Y strains is available for free, for babies from 12 months old, and for teens aged 15-19. If required earlier, younger babies are able to be vaccinated, but this is not covered by the National Immunisation Schedule. The meningococcal B strain is only available for free in South Australia.


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