97 cases already this year

Australians are urged to be alert to lesser known signs of deadly meningococcal disease, with cases usually increasing towards end of flu season

NSW Health is urging people to be alert to lesser known signs of meningococcal disease with 21 cases already reported this year in the state.

Across Australia there have been 97 cases and, of these, six were reported to have died from the disease.

Meningococcal cases normally start to increase towards the end of flu season when people’s immune systems are weaker from viruses, says NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard.

“Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection that can cause death within hours and it’s hard to identify, so the more symptoms people know about, the better,” said Dr Sheppeard.

“Often it can mimic other common illnesses, so be aware nearer spring that nausea symptoms, vomiting, neck stiffness, joint pain, light sensitivity, or a sudden fever, could be something else.

“Most people normally associate meningococcal disease with a rash of red-purple spots or bruises but in some cases a rash doesn’t appear, or it could be the last symptom to take shape.”

Meningococcal infection does not spread easily, explains NSW Health.

It is spread by secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is carrying the bacteria. Close and prolonged contact is needed to pass it on, it says.

“It more commonly occurs in people aged between 15-24 years as they tend to be involved in more intimate social activities such as kissing, and children aged under 5 years, but it can affect anyone,” said Dr Sheppeard.

Meanwhile vaccination is the best means of protection against meningococcal disease, says NSW Health.

Vaccination for meningococcal disease types A, C, W and Y, is available on the National Immunisation Program for infants at 12 months of age and adolescents in Year 10.

Any adolescents aged 15 to 19 years who missed the vaccine in school are eligible for a free vaccine from their GP.

“However, as there are several strains of meningococcal disease, and vaccination does not cover all strains, even vaccinated people need to be on the lookout for symptoms,” says NSW Health.

The latest Annual Immunisation Report shows vaccination rates across Australia are at their highest level ever, with 94.78% of five year olds fully vaccinated.

Australia now has world leading vaccination rates for children which are above the global vaccination coverage of 85%.

The NSW government has committed to investing around $130 million in the 2019-20 Immunisation Program Budget, including Commonwealth and State vaccines.

Each year, the Federal government invests over $400 million in the National Immunisation Program.

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