Meningococcal cases on rise in regional Victoria

Health authorities are calling on teenagers to take advantage of free meningococcal vaccinations as confirmed cases of the disease continue to rise across the state.

So far this year, five people have died from meningococcal in Victoria, with 74 cases of the disease reported to the health department.

Health experts predict this number will continue to rise and are urging teenagers aged 15-19 years old to get the free vaccination.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said there had been a significant rise in meningococcal cases over the past 12 months with new strains of the disease causing serious illness and deaths across the state.

“It’s important to note that this free meningococcal vaccine is different to the one given to young children and protects against four strains of the deadly disease, which are all on the rise,” he said.

In Bendigo alone, there have been two confirmed cases of meningococcal reported up until October 27, compared to a total of one case in 2016, but down from the five in 2015.

Bendigo Health infectious diseases physician Dr Andrew Mahony said the most recent case at the hospital was a young adult whose GP had picked it up and sent him straight to the emergency department.

He said the man had recovered well, but presented with a slightly atypical rash.

“If you’re getting severe muscle pain with fever then you need to think about getting medical treatment if you’re a teenager or young adult,” he said, adding that university-age adults were also at risk.

The disease causes the inflammation of the membrane covering the brain, infection of the blood and severe infections in joints, throat, lungs and intestines. One in 10 people who contract meningococcal will die within 24 to 48 hours of diagnosis.

 Dr Mahony said the different strains of the disease might present differently with symptoms, and someone infected might not have a rash. He said anyone with severe headaches and a fever should head to the emergency department straight away.

Minister for Health Jill Hennessy said immunisation saved lives.

“With the summer season rapidly approaching and bringing with it more chance for young people to get out and be social, eligible young people should take action and get the free meningococcal vaccine,” she said.

“If you are eligible, and you haven’t received it yet, get the free vaccine as soon as you can, whether it’s from the GP, at school or at a local council immunisation session.”

Meningococcal can be spread through close social contact such as kissing, coughing, or sneezing. Young people and smokers are particularly at risk of contracting the disease.

For health advice call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24, or call 000 in an emergency.

To find out more about meningococcal disease or the free vaccine program visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/menvax