7 things to know about meningococcal vaccines

Which vaccines are available and who should get them?

A few weeks ago Australians were urged to be alert to lesser known signs of deadly meningococcal disease.

As of 18 July there had been 97 cases of meningococcal disease across the country.

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, said 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.”

Invasive meningococcal disease is a rare but serious infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis.

Here are 7 things to know about meningococcal disease and related vaccines according to Australian Prescriber’s recent update on the topic.

1. Vaccination is strongly recommended for people in high-risk age or population groups: children under 2 years, 15–19 year olds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and people with medical, occupational, behavioural or travel-related risk factors for invasive meningococcal disease.

2. Risk factors for invasive disease include immune deficiencies such as asplenia, complement deficiencies and haemoglobinopathies, smoking, living in close quarters with other people, occupational exposure to  meningitidis, and travel to highly endemic countries.

3. There are currently two groups of meningococcal vaccines available in Australia:

      • Three quadrivalent conjugate vaccines for protection against serogroups A, C, W and Y (Nimenrix, Menveo, Menactra).
      • Two recombinant protein-based vaccines for protection against serogroup B (Bexsero, Trumenba).

4. MenACWY vaccine is provided for children aged 12 months and adolescents under the National Immunisation Program.

5. MenB vaccines are currently not funded on the National Immunisation Program, but are available by private prescription. In South Australia, they are available through a state-based program.

“Health professionals should look out for at-risk patients and discuss vaccination options with them,” write authors Ketaki Sharma, Clayton Chiu and Nicholas Wood in Australian Prescriber.

“Meningococcal vaccination is available for anyone who would like to reduce the risk of invasive meningococcal disease.”

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