Meningococcal disease represents a rare but very serious illness. Fortunately, however, it is not common, is easily treatable when identified early and vaccines are available to minimise risk.
Continued awareness from community members and clinicians to ensure early identification of new Meningococcal cases remains vital. Although uncommon, Meningococcal disease can develop very quickly and is fatal in 5-10 per cent of cases. Patient recovery is dependent on early diagnosis and commencement of antibiotic treatment. However, the disease can be challenging to identify initially as it can appear similar to other milder illnesses.
Symptoms may include high fevers, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness and confusion. These features are sometimes accompanied by a red-purple spotty rash that appears like small points of bleeding under the skin. The bacteria that cause Meningococcal disease comprise of a number of different serogroups.
Since 2003, a vaccine for Meningococcal serogroup C has been part of the standard childhood immunisation schedule. As a result, the incidence of Meningococcal disease has decreased significantly in WA, with about 20 cases now reported each year, down from a peak of 86 cases in 2000. In 2016, Meningococcal serogroup W became the most common cause of Meningococcal infection in WA and Australia, and in late January, the State Government announced a statewide Meningococcal serogroup W vaccination program. The program will target 15-19 year olds as this group has the highest rates of carrying the Meningococcal bacteria. The vaccine will cover the A, C, W and Y serogroups and will commence in school term 2, running over a three-year period. For people who fall outside of this target group but are concerned that they may be at additional risk, the serogroup W vaccine is also currently available (but not government funded) through your GP.
This article was written by Dr. Tom Mildenhall and published in the Western Suburbs Weekly in February, 2017.