The Department of Health today reported that an adult has been diagnosed with meningococcal serogroup B disease and is currently in hospital.
Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain, and occasionally of other sites, such as the throat, lungs or large joints.
To date in 2020, nine meningococcal cases have been reported in WA; five were serogroup W, two were serogroup Y and two were serogroup B. There have been no deaths reported. In 2019, 24 cases of meningococcal disease were reported in WA residents, including three deaths. Of these, two had serogroup W disease and one had serogroup B disease.
There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available: one protects against four serogroups of the meningococcal disease (serogroups A, C, W and Y) and the other protects against serogroup B.
The MenACWY vaccine is offered free to all children at 12 months of age. In addition, the MenACWY vaccine is offered to all Year 10 students, with a free catch-up program for 15-19 year-olds.
Due to a higher rate of meningococcal disease in Aboriginal children in WA, the MenACWY vaccine is offered free to Aboriginal children from age 6 weeks to 12 months of age. The menB vaccine is free for all Aboriginal children aged up to 2 years of age. Both these vaccines are also free for people of all ages with certain medical risk conditions.
Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person-to-person. The bacterium is present in droplets discharged from the nose and throat when coughing or sneezing, but is not spread by saliva and does not survive more than a few seconds in the environment.
Meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by about 10-20 per cent of the population at any one time. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream or tissues and cause serious infections.
Sometimes – but not always – symptoms may be accompanied by the appearance of a spotty red-purple rash that looks like small bleeding points beneath the skin or bruises.
Symptoms of invasive meningococcal disease may include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and severe muscle and joint pains. Young children may not complain of symptoms, so fever, pale or blotchy complexion, vomiting, lethargy (inactivity), poor feeding and rash are important signs.
Although treatable with antibiotics, meningococcal infection can progress very rapidly, so it is important that anyone experiencing these symptoms seeks medical attention promptly.
With appropriate treatment, most people with the disease recover, although around 5 to 10 per cent will die and around 15 per cent may experience complications such as hearing loss, or gangrene requiring skin grafts or amputations.